Processing Boosts Some Foods’ Nutritional Benefits

July 19, 2016

CHICAGO – As Americans focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains in order to eat a more healthful diet, they may overlook the fact that food processing can enhance the nutritional value of some foods.

Many consumers in a recent survey agreed that processed foods can reduce costs and improve convenience, but they were unaware that that food technology can increase food safety and boost nutrition, said Roger Clemens, an adjunct professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Southern California and a speaker at IFT16: Where Science Feeds Innovation, hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).  

Take tomatoes, which contain lycopene, an important dietary component that may be beneficial to humans, he says. When food companies cook tomatoes to make tomato products such as tomato sauce, juice and paste, the process actually changes the lycopene into a form that is more easily used by the body, Clemens added.

The cooking of raw foods enhances the absorption of organic pigments (known as bioactive carotenoids) such as lycopene, the red pigment in tomatoes or beta carotene, an orange pigment in carrots by softening the food texture to allow for better digestion, agrees John Erdman Jr., professor emeritus in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois.  “For carotenoids, adding some fat, as would be done in processed pasta sauces enhances absorption further,” he says.

Tomatoes, particularly the lycopene in them, have been shown to suppress prostate cancer in several animal experiments, and population studies show that people who consume the highest amounts of tomatoes and tomato products have a lower risk of prostate cancer, Erdman says.

Lycopene is the primary bioactive component in tomatoes, but it’s not the only one, he says.  Others include folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber as well as other cancer-fighting nutrients.

The bottom line: “People should make sure they consume both fresh and processed tomato products for optimizing health,” Erdman says.

Other technologies help preserve or add nutritional value to foods, Clemens says. Companies can “harvest, blanch, cut and flash freeze green beans within an hour so the nutritional quality is better than the green beans you’d get at a typical farmer’s market.”

Plus, vitamins and minerals are added to some foods, such as vitamin D to milk and cereal. If intake of those foods were decreased, there would be a lot more nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D, calcium and other key nutrients, including dietary fiber, he says. 

About IFT 
For more than 70 years, IFT has existed to advance the science of food. Our nonprofit scientific society—more than 18,000 members from more than 100 countries—brings together food scientists, technologists and related professions from academia, government, and industry. For more information, please visit