The past year in foods, nutrition, medicine, and health brought us extremes. There were exciting, almost magical advances in applied biology and food technology, yet there continued to be fundamental and widespread misunderstanding and oversimplification in many Americans’ pursuit of well-being.

Looking Back. Last year was a year of good science and outrageous myth. Reducing risk and preventing illness were and continue to be two important objectives within the health care system. These objectives were wonderfully presented by Kaiser Permanente through animation and floral fantasy during the “It’s Magic” 2006 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The commentary by Kaiser noted that attaining good health is not magic. Good health is realized daily by the choices we make in what we eat, what we teach our children, and what we demonstrate through our lifestyle. Nutritious food, exercise, and health choices represent the best combination for great health, according to the whimsical family of Peter Rabbit. Mother rabbit and the bunny family enjoy heaping basketfuls of freshly picked fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Despite this “eat right” model, there is little doubt that the American public was less discerning in 2005.

During 2005, Americans were presented with new dietary guidelines and “myPyramid” from the U .S. Dept. of Agriculture. These guidelines asked consumers to look at food from a different perspective—from the vantage point of health promotion and weight management, a notable shift from nutrient adequacy to weight management and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

Disturbingly, new ways of losing weight forever flowered without foundation, low-carbohydrate diets became the unwarranted craze, glycemic index foods were advocated in the absence of substantive clinical data, and “detox” regimens became an international phenomenon. T he lure and myths of instant health and internal cleansing continue to compete with sound science and balance, moderation, and variety.

Some fundamental and clinical research findings on specific phytochemicals, such as polyphenols and carotenoids, were transformed and incorporated as excellent functional foods, while others lacked significant scientific agreement for qualified health claims. Omega-3 fatty acids, hormone replacement therapy, metabolic syndrome, cancer, neural tube defects, oral health, mental health, and obesity were topics of controversy and signs of promise upon examination of the dynamics of and interactions between food, medicine, and health during the past 12 months.

Looking Forward. Nanotechnology, the science of the tiny, has a big future. This emerging molecular technology will likely revolutionize conventional food production, produce less waste, and require less energy, while yielding safe, sustainable “smart” foods like magic to reduce risk and even prevent disease.

The National Institutes of Health has expanded efforts to study medicine and health interactions by establishing and funding a national network of Nanomedicine Development Centers (NDCs). The goals of these intellectual and technological centers are to characterize quantitatively the minute nanoscale components of the cell and to precisely control and manipulate molecules and supramolecular assembles in living cells to improve human health ( Interestingly, none of the NDC awards includes the potential application of nanoscience to agriculture, food science, food packaging, and nutrition as part of their pathways to discovery.

The significance of nanotechnology and even nanonutrition was emphasized in a recent report by Helmut Kaiser Consultancy ( T he report notes that the future of new food products and new processes from nanotechnology in agriculture, food science, and nutrition will improve safety and quality of foods while providing a means to customize and personalize a more healthful food supply. The report indicates that more than 200 global companies are active in nanotechnology research for the nanofood market, which is expected to reach $20.4 billion by 2010. The most-active food companies in the United States, China, and Japan will change the shopping baskets and meal profiles to deliver designer foods with greater capability and precision, lower costs, and improved sustainability. New nutrition delivery systems will bring active agents more precisely and efficiently to the body’s systems and cells that need these substances, thus reducing the risk of disease through improved disease resistance at the nanoscale level.

Attaining good health is not magic. It is a challenge for all of us. Our tools to meet this challenge, such as nanotechnology, are becoming more powerful.

by Roger Clemens, Dr.P.H.,
Contributing Editor
Director, Analytical Research, Professor, Molecular Pharmacology & Toxicology,
USC School of Pharmacy, Los Angeles, Calif.
[email protected]

by Peter Pressman, M.D.,
Contributing Editor
Attending Staff, Internal Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,
Los Angeles, Calif.
[email protected]