- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who would have thought pizza dough has any beneficial effects?

Food scientists do, it turns out. But not just any dough. Pizza made of whole-wheat flour that is baked longer at higher temperatures can increase the level of antioxidants in a finished crust as much as 82 percent, according to studies done by a team at the University of Maryland’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

Their findings were presented at this week’s meeting in Chicago of the Washington-based American Chemical Society.

Antioxidants, of course, are organic substances considered to be effective in helping prevent cancer, heart disease and stroke. They protect the body’s cells from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals and are especially abundant in fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.

Numerous studies of antioxidants have been done elsewhere, but doctoral candidate Jeffrey Moore and associate professor Liangli “Lucy” Yu determined to test them in one of the most popular food products in the United States.

They aimed to show that choosing a grain-based pizza rather than one made with refined white flour can make a difference in your health. If the baking is monitored carefully, the increased time and temperature does not cause burning, Mr. Moore says.

Most of the antioxidants in wheat are found in the bran and endosperm components, which largely have been removed in refined flour, he notes. “There is a lot of interest now in whole wheat and grain products,” he says, explaining why he and professor Yu chose that particular area for their experiments.

Wheat is not commonly used by most pizza makers, Ms. Yu says. “Our goal is to try to improve the food quality so we can help people become healthy. Consumer education needs scientific data,” she says, adding that the different baking method doesn’t affect the quality. “It’s just as good as white-flour pizza.”

Their work was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among other agencies; no contributions came from the pizza industry, Mr. Moore says.

Also at the conference, chemists from the University of South Carolina explained the novel invention of a consumer test kit able to determine whether food products are spoiled or safe to eat. The device, called a dipstick, will be portable and disposable when it comes on the market in two to three years, it was reported. The test works by detecting the presence of chemicals formed by disease-causing bacteria.

Research scientists are ever ready in this way to help improve society’s well-being, although early experimental work on treatment modes done only with animal subjects understandably need further development.

One paper presented at the meeting explained how a naturally occurring substance in blueberries called pterostilbene can help prevent colon cancer. Though other fruits, including cranberries and grapes, contain the same substance, its level was found to be greater in some varieties of blueberries.

An ACS symposium titled Natural Products, Diets and Cancer Prevention explored the promise of cancer-fighting elements in other food compounds as well.

Drinking several glasses daily of unfiltered apple juice also is likely to fight colon cancer, according to German scientists from Heidelberg. The antioxidants involved are called procyanidins, their report said. Likewise, grape-seed compounds may prevent skin cancer by boosting the immune system, according to studies done at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Also, a compound found in high-fiber foods shows promise to work against prostate cancer, noted a professor from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Previous studies have shown how antioxidants in fruits, vegetables and whole grains are potentially good agents for fighting colon cancer, but the one using blueberries was called the first to emphasize the role of pterostilbene — a timely finding because March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Though the exact cause of the disease is unknown, it has been linked to diets high in saturated fats and calories.

The work with blueberries was done by scientists at Rutgers University in New Jersey, headed by Bandaru S. Reddy, a professor in the Department of Chemical Biology’s Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research.

Writing in a summary paper for the ACS, Mr. Reddy emphasized the potential of employing so-called natural food products in combination with pharmacological drugs as a way of reducing risks associated with the latter.

Researchers at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, spoke of finding in the blue agave fruit, the basic ingredient of tequila, a medicinal value beyond what the liquor offers as a recreational drink. The fruit was cited as a carrier agent, capable of delivering drugs directly to the colon. Because of this, the chemists said they foresaw improvements in the treatment of such diseases as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and Crohn’s disease.

Too many drugs are destroyed by stomach acids before they reach the intestine, where they usually are absorbed, the scientists say. A compound in agave called fructan proves resistant to the acids, they found.

Other advances concerning the beneficial effects of certain foods or food preparation methods have been highlighted in recent issues of the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. They include mention of a laboratory experiment done by food scientists in Taiwan that shows capsaicin — a compound responsible for the bite in red pepper — can help reduce the growth of fat cells.

Also, a study done by researchers from Argentina and the United States pointed out the correct way to use garlic in order to obtain maximum healthful effects. Crushing or chopping the garlic beforehand and allowing it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking was said to release formation of useful compounds that inevitably are diminished by heat in cooking.

From Spain comes news in the same journal that olive oil, often cited for its benefit as a substitute for less healthy fats, may help prevent and treat gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. The oil was found to have a strong antibacterial effect against several strains of these infections, including antibiotic-resistant strains.

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