Encouraging more health-promoting foods should be one strategy for changing health-risky American diets, says the dean of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture.
"Chronic diseases are a major burden on society," Catherine Woteki told participants at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Denver last weekend. "Scientific evidence has shown diet to be a factor in many of the leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and kidney disease."
Woteki, who also is a professor of food science and human nutrition, spoke in a Feb. 15 symposium on "Foods for Health: Integrating Agriculture and Medicine."
"We need to move from cause to prevention," Woteki said. "We need to achieve a balance in eating more foods that boost health and prevent disease and eating fewer foods that promote disease."
For the last decade, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Institutes of Health's Institute of Medicine has been reviewing nutritional factors that promote good health and prevent chronic disease. Woteki is the former director of the Food and Nutrition Board and currently a member of the Institute of Medicine.
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"The board is nearing the end of its review and has recommended new dietary intakes to promote lifelong health," Woteki said. "Its conclusions provide insights to guide public health and medical intervention strategies."
"The public-policy question is how do we achieve a more health-promoting food supply to maximize the health of our population," she said.
Several strategies exist for public health interventions.
"Providing nutritional information and education and improving access to health-promoting foods will always be important," Woteki said.
Fortifying or supplementing the food supply with healthful substances has a proven track record, she added. The addition of vitamin D in milk, thiamin and niacin in flour, iron in a variety of foods and, more recently, folic acid into cereals and other foods have reduced disease threats, she said.
Technologies also are available to reformulate foods to reduce or remove harmful substances, such as high-saturated fat, Woteki said.
Modifying foods with genetic technologies also holds great promise, Woteki added. "Biotechnology can help improve the health-promoting profile of food by increasing levels of desirable substances and decreasing allergens and other factors that increase the risk of disease."