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Phenolic-enriched foods: sources and processing for enhanced health benefits

  • Gordon J. McDougall (a1)

Polyphenols are ubiquitous secondary products present in many plant foods. Their intake has been associated with health benefits ranging from reduced incidence of CVD, diabetes and cancers to improved neurodegenerative outcomes. Major dietary sources include beverages such as coffee, teas and foods such as chocolate. Fruits are also major sources and berries in particular are a palatable source of a diverse range of polyphenol components. There are a number of ways that polyphenol uptake could be increased and healthier polyphenol-rich foods could be produced with specific compositions to target-specific health effects. Firstly, we could exploit the genetic diversity of plants (with a focus on berries) to select varieties that have enhanced levels of specific polyphenols implicated in disease mitigation (e.g. anthocyanins, tannins or flavonols). Working with variation induced by environmental and agronomic factors, modern molecular breeding techniques could exploit natural variation and beneficially alter polyphenol content and composition, although this could be relatively long term. Alternatively, we could employ a synthetic biology approach and design new plants that overexpress certain genes or re-deploy more metabolic effort into specific polyphenols. However, such ‘polyphenol-plus’ fruit could prove unpalatable as polyphenols contribute to sensorial properties (e.g. astringency of tannins). However, if the aim was to produce a polyphenol as a pharmaceutical then ‘lifting’ biosynthetic pathways from plants and expressing them in microbial vectors may be a feasible option. Secondly, we could design processing methods to enhance the polyphenolic composition or content of foods. Fermentation of teas, cocoa beans and grapes, or roasting of cocoa and coffee beans has long been used and can massively influence polyphenol composition and potential bioactivity. Simple methods such as milling, heat treatment, pasteurisation or juicing (v. pureeing) can have notable effects on polyphenol profiles and novel extraction methods bring new opportunities. Encapsulation methods can protect specific polyphenols during digestion and increase their delivery in the gastrointestinal tract to target-specific health effects. Lastly we could examine reformulation of products to alter polyphenol content or composition. Enhancing staple apple or citrus juices with berry juices could double polyphenol levels and provide specific polyphenol components. Reformulation of foods with polyphenol-rich factions recovered from ‘wastes’ could increase polyphenol intake, alter product acceptability, improve shelf life and prevent food spoilage. Finally, co-formulation of foods can influence bioavailability and potential bioactivity of certain polyphenols. Within the constraints that certain polyphenols can interfere with drug effectiveness through altered metabolism, this provides another avenue to enhance polyphenol intake and potential effectiveness. In conclusion, these approaches could be developed separately or in combination to produce foods with enhanced levels of phenolic components that are effective against specific disease conditions.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author: G. J. McDougall, email
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Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
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