While genetic modification of crops elicits considerable opposition in Europe the opposition is much less in the United States. An Iowa State economist says in a survey he did consumers indicate they would pay more for crops genetic engineered to contain more antioxidants.
AMES, Iowa - Consumers are eager to get their hands on, and teeth into, foods that are genetically modified to increase health benefits - and even pay more for the opportunity.
A study by Iowa State University researcher Wallace Huffman shows that when consumers are presented with produce enhanced with consumer traits through intragenic means, they will pay significantly more than for plain produce.
By "intragenic" they mean genes that are transferred within species. Most of these sorts of transfers could be done with conventional breeding programs, albeit with much longer time spans than the amount of time it takes to do genetic manipulations in a lab. Our major food crops are products of conventional breeding that concentrated combinations of genetic variants that already existed more rarely in wild plants. So the intragenic genetic modifications probably won't create crop strains any more radical than the foods we already eat.
People are willing to pay more for food that has more antioxidants in them.
"What we found was when genes for enhancing the amount of antioxidants and vitamin C in fresh produce were transferred by intragenic methods, consumers are willing to pay 25 percent more than for the plain product (with no enhancements). That is a sizable increase," said Huffman, distinguished professor of economics.
We already eat apple sauce fortified with vitamin C, milk fortified with vitamin D, and grains fortified with a variety of vitamins. Genetic engineering will shift food fortification into the genes. This has already been done with golden rice which has genes added to make it produce beta carotene which is a precursor which the body converts to vitamin A. The goal with golden rice is to reduce blindness in poor countries caused by vitamin A deficiency.
My main concern with genetic engineering for food fortification involves the choice of nutritional targets. Which vitamins should be boosted? I expect little benefit from fortification for most antioxidant vitamins. But prospects look better for benefit from the non-vitamin antioxidants (update: more accurately, some compounds that up-regulate detoxifying enzymes and repair enzymes). My suggestion: Measure antioxidant levels of wild berries and other wild crops. Then genetically engineer production crops to have the same levels. So, for example, farmed blueberries would contain the same levels of polyphenols as wild type.
Also, I would want genetically enhanced fortified strains to be so labeled.
BOSTON, Aug. 26, 2010 — Health conscious consumers who hesitate at the price of fresh blueberries and blackberries, fruits renowned for high levels of healthful antioxidants, now have an economical alternative, scientists reported here today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It is black rice, one variety of which got the moniker "Forbidden Rice" in ancient China because nobles commandeered every grain for themselves and forbade the common people from eating it.
Black rice bran beats blueberries for antioxidants.
"Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E antioxidants," said Zhimin Xu, Associate Professor at the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., who reported on the research. "If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health promoting antioxidants."
So you want to step it up and be even more SWPL than your friends? Black rice. That's the ticket.
How to buy the stuff? I did some web searches and the cheapest I could find is $50 total for 10 lb of Chinese black rice delivered. I make no recommendations about that site. Just found it in a web search. They also have purple sticky rice. Anyone know how it compares?
Update: See Lou Pagnucco's comment below about arsenic contamination in rice bran. Past use of arsenic as an insecticide makes rice bran a risky health proposition. Before making rice bran part of your regular diet it would be prudent to know that one's source of rice bran has been tested to not have arsenic.
University Park, Pa. — Health benefits from polyphenol antioxidants — substances found in many fruits and vegetables — may come at a cost to some people. Penn State nutritional scientists found that eating certain polyphenols decreased the amount of iron the body absorbs, which can increase the risk of developing an iron deficiency.
"Polyphenols have been known to have many beneficial effects for human health, such as preventing or delaying certain types of cancer, enhancing bone metabolism and improving bone mineral density, and decreasing risk of heart disease," said Okhee Han, assistant professor of nutritional sciences. "But so far, not many people have thought about whether or not polyphenols affect nutrient absorption."
Let me offer a contrarian spin: the people who absorb and retain too much iron (probably because of genetic variants selected for by iron-poor environments of their ancestors) might be living longer due to high-polyphenol fruits and vegetables. The polyphenols are reducing the damage done by reducing the incidence of (not always diagnosed) iron toxicity.
The researchers, led by Han, studied the effects of eating grape seed extract and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) found in green tea. They used cells from the intestine — where iron absorption takes place — to assess the polyphenols' effect and found that polyphenols bind to iron in the intestinal cells, forming a non-transportable complex. This iron-polyphenol complex cannot enter the blood stream. Instead, it is excreted in the feces when cells are sloughed off and replaced.
Of course, if you do drink a lot of tea, eat lots of apples and grapes, and consume other high polyphenol foods you can always supplement your diet with copious quantities of steaks and hamburgers. So can't control your craving for grapes and cranberries? Got a really strong tea addiction? Treat it with red meat.
Now, maybe the whole polyphenol-iron connection is overblown. Even if so, you can still go on a high-meat Paleo Diet and think of yourself as guided by the latest wisdom in evolutionary biological thinking.
Kazunori Hironaka, with Obihiro University in Hokkaido, Japan finds that it is possible to use ultrasound or electricity to make potatoes healthier to eat.
"We found that treating the potatoes with ultrasound or electricity for 5-30 minutes increased the amounts of antioxidants –– including phenols and chlorogenic acid –– by as much as 50 percent," said Kazunori Hironaka, Ph.D., who headed the research. "Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are considered to be of nutritional importance in the prevention of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, various cancers, diabetes, and neurological diseases."
Home ultrasound for healthier eating? Or shock those potatoes into better shape?
"We knew from research done in the past that drought, bruising, and other stresses could stimulate the accumulation of beneficial phenolic compounds in fresh produce," Hironaka explained. "We found that there hasn't been any research on the healthful effects of using mechanical processes to stress vegetables. So we decided in this study to evaluate effect of ultrasound and electric treatments on polyphenols and other antioxidants in potatoes."
The ultrasound treatment consisted of immersing whole potatoes in water and subjecting them to ultrasound for 5 or 10 minutes. For the electrical treatment, the scientists immersed potatoes in a salt solution for 10 seconds and subsequently treated the spuds with a small electrical charge for 10, 20, and 30 minutes. The study team then measured antioxidant activity and the phenolic content and concluded that the stresses increased the amount of these compounds. The 5 minutes of ultrasound, for instance, increased polyphenol levels by 1.2 times and other antioxidants by about 1.6 times.
The potatoes probably need to be still whole and uncooked in order to produce phenols. So ultrasound before microwaving. How about a microwave oven that can deliver the ultrasound before microwaves?