Find out more about the food you eat.
To help plant breeders improve the potatoes and tomatoes we eat we need to understand the background to the qualities (e.g. flavour) we are interested in. Below are some of the qualities investigated by EU-SOL and how genes can affect them.
What is nutrition?
All our food provides us with nutrients, if it did not do so it wouldn’t be ‘food’. Nutrients are commonly divided into macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients.
Macro-nutrients are those needed in significant quantity and these provide both the energy needed to live and raw materials needed to build new cells within our body. Macro-nutrients can be divided into fats (e.g. olive oil, butter), carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, bread) and proteins (e.g. meat, also present in cheese and some pulses). Fibre and water are sometimes considered as macro nutrients as well.
Micronutrients are those compounds needed or beneficial to our bodies which are required in relatively minor quantities. Key amongst these are vitamins and minerals, and of increasing interest, anti-oxidants.
Vitamins are organic compounds that the body cannot make itself (in sufficient quantity) but are essential for life. Vitamins are probably best known for their role as co-factors or co-enzymes but also fulfil a number of other roles such as mediators of signalling between cells.
Minerals are inorganic elements required for normal running of the body . Often divided into essential and trace minerals they are required in varying amounts. They perform a number of functions such as acting as electrolytes, as part of cell structure or co-factors for enzymes.
Oxidants are compounds that have the ability to change the chemical structure of other compounds in a particular way. The rusting of iron, the browning of an apple in the air and the fading of a pair of jeans are all the result of oxidation.
Oxidising agents are bad news for the body as they have the potential to damage many of the materials that make up the body, such as fats, proteins and DNA. This damage may result in disease, including cancer. A particular group of highly reactive oxidising agents are known as free radicals. There are large amounts of free radicals in smoke, which is one of the reasons smoking leads to a higher risk of developing cancer.
Antioxidants are compounds that neutralise oxidants. It stands to reason that a higher intake of antioxidants in our food could contribute towards a healthy lifestyle.