Nutritional enhancement of plant foods


The question of why it is necessary to improve the nutritional value of plant foods is one that at first hand might seem difficult to justify. What evidence is there that this is a problem? In the developed world there are no overt signs of malnutrition even amongst strict vegans. The reasons for this are that many processed plant foods are fortified with essential nutrients. Fortification is utilised to replace nutrients lost in the heat processing of foods and through oxidation. Few vegetarians are dependent on a single plant source to provide their basic nutritional needs. In addition, vegetarians frequently consume vitamins as supplements and the growth in this industry has been rapid. The fact that people are resorting to the consumption of vitamins as supplements is are flection of their belief that more of a good thing will result in an improvement in their health. This is a very dubious argument. None the less, it is important to recognise that there commended intakes of nutrients, that have been determined by expert groups of nutritionists, are based on the evidence that a specific intake level for a nutrient is required to ensure healthy growth and development. They do not reflect the growing body of evidence that suggests different, and often higher, intakes of these same nutrients are required to optimise health and lead to an active life through the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases associated with ageing [1,2,3]. The critical issue is to determine what intakes are required to optimise health rather than to compromise it.