Interacting nutrients

We’re always saying how agrobiodiversity includes all kinds of different things — crops, livestock, wild relatives, pollinators, microbes — which interact in often complex ways. Mess with one part, and you often unintentionally affect another.

Well, it looks like those interactions continue once the products of agrobiodiversity are harvested and eaten. A review described in ScienceDaily today says that people should worry less about individual nutrients and

shift the focus toward the benefits of entire food products and food patterns in order to better understand nutrition in regard to a healthy human body.

For example, there is little evidence, according to the researchers, of long-term health benefits from taking isolated supplements of beta-carotene and B-vitamins, or from reducing total fats.

In contrast, myriad observations have been made of improved long-term health for foods and food patterns that incorporate these same nutrients naturally occurring in food.

So it’s the foodway as a whole, rather than intake of individual nutrients, that needs to be optimized. Which I guess should give pause to those — like me! — who hope that, for example, things like deep yellow sweet potatoes or bananas will solve the problem of vitamin A deficiency.

One Reply to “Interacting nutrients”

  1. Agreed.

    Programs like HarvestPlus have been careful not to sell biofortification as the silver bullet that will resolve micronutrient malnutrition.

    Still what do you do in those poor households that have low diet diversity and heavily depend on cheap staple crops? They cannot afford to diversify their diets. Micronutrient supplements and food fortification are good strategies but are difficult to implement in countries that do not have effective and strong governance. These strategies need to be sustained, not just every time an international donor agency gets motivated to start a program. I think biofortification could help in those places where the population depends primarily on one crop (potato in the high Andes?). Still countries will probably need to employ all the strategies…..I still think we should entertain the idea of a massive effort to reduce prices on fruits and vegetables (through more R+D, higher yields and subsidies).

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