Our research demonstrates that many of the protective compounds in grains are found in bound phytochemicals and that grains therefore possess higher antioxidant properties than previously thought.
Epidemiological studies have strongly suggested that diets play a crucial role in the prevention of chronic diseases. Regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, and age-related functional decline. Cardiovascular disease and cancer are ranked first and second, respectively, as the leading causes of death in the United States. Approximately 35 percent of cancer deaths in the United States are related to diet. Therefore, dietary modification is a practical strategy for the prevention of chronic diseases.
The original aim of Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) was to prevent clinical nutrient deficiencies. This aim has been shifted to focus on the prevention of diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, and birth defects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) have recommended eating six to 11 servings of grain products daily. These foods comprise the base of the USDA food guide pyramid. This recommendation is designed to increase public awareness of the health benefits of grain consumption, attributed in part to their unique phytochemical composition. Many of the protective compounds in whole grains are also found in fruits and vegetables, but some of these plant compounds such as phenolic acids, including ferulic acid are unique to grains.
In their research on corn, wheat, rice, and oats, Cornell food scientists found that the phytochemical contents in grains have been commonly underestimated in the literature, because bound phytochemicals were not included in previous studies. Phytochemicals such as phenolics, flavonoids, and carotenoids are biologically active plant compounds that have been shown to be responsible for the health benefits of fruits, grains, and vegetables. The Cornell researchers discovered that much of the total phenolic content in grains was in insoluble, bound forms and that these bound phytochemicals were the major contributors to the total antioxidant activity in grains: 90 percent in wheat, 87 percent in corn, 71 percent in rice, and 58 percent in oats.
Bound phytochemicals can survive stomach and intestinal digestion to reach the colon, where digestion releases the bulk of bound phytochemicals. These chemicals provide site-specific health benefits. This is consistent with epidemiological findings that grain consumption has been associated with reduced risk of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and reduced total mortality. The research demonstrates that grains possess higher antioxidant properties than previously thought.
From a scientific and human health standpoint, this research may have a significant impact on consumers' food product selection and may also help promote the USDA and USDHHS recommendation of six to 11 servings of grain products per day. A healthy population will also have a positive impact on the nationwide cost of health care. In addition to the scientific impact, this research will also have a critical economic impact on New York and U.S. grain growers and grain processing industries by increasing consumption of grains and grain-based products.
- Federal Formula Funds - Research (e.g., Hatch, McIntire-Stennis, Animal Health)