Submitted to: Trends in Plant Science
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/6/1999
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: Plant foods contain a bountiful array of vitamins, minerals, and unique phytochemicals that are critical and/or beneficial for human health and well-being. Humans require a mixture of carbohydrates, lipids, and protein (amino acids), as well as 17 mineral nutrients and 13 vitamins, as essential components of the diet. To prevent nutrient deficiencies, each dietary component must be consumed at a daily intake level at or above a defined minimum value; the level for each nutrient varies with age, sex, and physiological status (e.g. pregnancy, lactation, disease-related stress). Additionally, the intake of some nutrients at higher, therapeutic levels has been associated with a reduction in risk for chronic conditions such as cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Because almost all essential human nutrients can be obtained from a diverse, plant-based diet (the exceptions being vitamins B-12 and D), plant foods have the potential to significantly impact human nutrition and health. Unfortunately, many people in the developing world exist on a simple diet composed primarily of staple foods (e.g. rice, wheat, maize) that are poor sources of many micronutrients, and even in developed countries, the average intake of fruits and vegetables is well below government recommendations. Therefore, efforts have been under way to improve the nutrient content and composition of plant foods as a means to increase the consumption of various essential and health-enhancing compounds. An important new approach in this effort is the genomics-assisted strategy used recently to improve tocopherol (vitamin E) composition in seeds, the first example of increasing a vitamin level in a plant tissue by molecular manipulation.