The healthy image of fresh fruits and vegetables has been based chiefly on their vitamin and mineral content, but they are now known to contain bioactive substances valuable in the prevention of many diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

The potential health benefits of certain natural colours have has received much attention in recent years. Carotenoids such as beta-carotene provide a source of vitamin A activity, while their antioxidant properties are thought to protect against diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease. Research suggests that lutein may protect against eye disorders such as cataracts and blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants and are thought to have protective effects against cardiovascular and other diseases. Recent studies on anthocyanins from bilberries suggest effects on eye strain and night vision. In addition to antioxidant properties, curcumin (obtained from turmeric) has been shown to have anti-inflammatory action.

Lycopene is the predominant carotenoid in tomatoes. Although it has no vitamin A activity, lycopene has been shown to be a strong antioxidant in vitro. Low serum lycopene concentrations have been linked with an increased risk of pancreatic and bladder cancers, whereas the intake of lycopene-rich foods such as tomato products has been inversely associated with the risk of prostate cancer. The findings of a study to compare the plasma responses of lycopene from the consumption of lycopene from a food source (tomato juice) with those produced by lycopene supplements (lycopene beadlets and tomato oleoresin) are reported. Changes in concentrations of lycopene oxidation products were monitored as a possible indicator of enhanced antioxidant status. Concentrations of plasma lycopene can be increased by the ingestion of realistic amounts of tomato juice. Lycopene seemed to be equally bioavailable from tomato juice and the supplements.

Scientists at the Tel Aviv University, Israel, have found that cranberries may protect against gum disease. They discovered that certain compounds in cranberries prevented bacteria from sticking to each other and forming dental plaque. Further research was considered necessary to find out how the active compounds in cranberries could be used to improve oral hygiene and develop new dental products. The bacterial anti-adhesion properties of cranberries are also known to benefit the urinary tract.

In the future, evaluation and promotion of the health benefits of natural colours is likely to increase in line with the continuing growth of the functional-foods markets worldwide.

Details of reports from Leatherhead Food RA click here