Natural Toxins

Plants have built-in mechanisms for pest control: fungi, insects, and animal predators. Unlike animals, plants can't flee when they sense danger, so they produce natural compounds—actually, low levels of pesticides-to protect against these invading organisms.

The level of natural toxins in food may be many times higher than any level of synthetic pesticide residue, according to the National Academy of Sciences. And according to FDA estimates, Americans ingest ten thousand times (by weight) more natural pesticides than synthetic ones-with no apparent health risk.

Natural toxins are found in foods you eat every day-for example, oxalates in rhubarb, solanine in green potatoes, nitrates in broccoli, and cyanide in lima beans. At high levels, some might cause illness or may be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). However, in the amounts normally eaten in a varied diet, none has been shown to pose a cancer risk.

Through advances in biotechnology, scientists now can identify genes that produce natural toxins, then either remove them or suppress their action, to provide a health benefit.

through biotechnology. The phrases "derived through biotechnology" or "bioengineered" have been suggested by the FDA for labeling. A recent American Medical Association report indicates no scientific justification for labeling most foods.

Growing Possibilities...

Food biotechnology, which holds great promise for feeding the world, is developing in the global marketplace, not just in the United States. Gradually you might find these foods in your supermarket:

  • Tomatoes with more lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against prostate cancer
  • Low-fat potato chips or French fries, made from higher-starch potatoes that absorb less fat
  • Vegetables and fruits with higher levels of antioxidants (vitamins C and E, and beta carotene) to help reduce risks for some health problems such as cancer and heart disease
  • Rice with higher-quality protein (more amino acids) produced with genes from pea plants
  • Vegetable oils—canola, corn, soybean, and others—with more stearate (a form of stearic acid, a saturated fat that doesn't appear to affect blood cholesterol levels) for use in margarine and spreads
  • Garlic with more allicin, a phytonutrient that may help lower cholesterol levels
  • Peanuts with less of the naturally occurring protein that causes allergic reactions
  • Strawberries with more ellagic acid, a cancer-fighting phytonutrient
  • Drought-resistant corn and rice for growing in regions with extreme heat and drought
  • Fruits that can deliver vaccines in regions of the world without adequate refrigeration to store vaccines
  • Folate-rich grains
  • As an ingredient, high linolenic acid soybean oil that is more stable, so less trans fats are formed during processing
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