An approach to understanding the role in human health of non-nutrient chemicals in food

  • N. Lazarus
  • J. A. Norman
  • E. M. Mortby


Many expert nutritional groups are concerned with defining and then educating the public on the ingredients of a wholesome and concomitantly healthy diet. Vegetables and fruit are high on the list of acceptable foods. Their inclusion is backed up by much epidemiological evidence to show that diets containing a high proportion of fruit and vegetables have a protective effect against cardiovascular-related diseases, as well as cancer (Gey, 1994; Graham et al., 1978). The nutritionists appear to have reached a consensus as to what constitutes a healthy diet. However, on close examination it is rarely clear which constituents of the diet are responsible for these health-giving properties and what mechanisms may underlie their effects. Food contains both major and minor chemical constituents. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates (both simple and complex) and fibre are the major constituents. Minor constituents include vitamins and minerals. However, in addition to the above there is a host of other chemicals, such as natural inherent non-nutrients, that are present in food. For many years, nutritionists have tended to ignore these chemicals. One reason could be that they were perceived as being nutritionally inert and therefore contributing very little to the wholesomeness of foods. There is now a large body of evidence which suggests that these neglected compounds may play a supporting role in imparting health (Wattenberg, 1993).


Methyl Glyoxal Western Diet Acceptable Daily Intake Allyl Isothiocyanate Ethyl Carbamate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aldercreutz, H., Honjo, H., Higashi, A. et al (1991) Urinary excretion of lignans and isoflavonoid phytoestrogens in Japanese men and women consuming a traditional Japanese diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 54, 1093–1100.Google Scholar
  2. Ames, B.N. (1989) What are the major carcinogens in the etiology of human cancer? In: DeVita, P.T., Hellman, S. and Rosenberg, S.A. (eds). Important Advances in Oncology, Lippincott, Philadelphia, pp. 237–247.Google Scholar
  3. Ames, B.N., Magaw, R. and Gold, L.S. (1987) Ranking possible carcinogenic hazards. Science, 236 (4799), 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beier, R.C. (1990) Natural pesticides and bioactive compounds in foods. In: Ware, G.W. (ed.) Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Vol. 113. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp. 47–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bennets, H.W., Underwood, E.J. and Shier, F.L. (1946) A specific breeding problem of sheep on subterranean clover pasture in western Australia. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 22, 131–138.Google Scholar
  6. Bradbury, R.B. and White, D.E. (1954) Oestrogens and related substances in plants. Vitamins and Hormones, 12, 207–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buss, N.E., Tembe, E.A., Prendergast, B.D. et al. (1994) The teratogenic metabolites of vitamin A in women following supplements and liver. Human and Experimental Toxicology, 13, 33–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cassidy, A., Bingham, S. and Setchell, K. (1994) Biological effects of a diet soya protein rich in isoflavones on the menstrual cycle of premenopausal women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60. 333–340.Google Scholar
  9. Department of Health, Comittee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (1993) The Nutritional Assessment of Novel Foods and Processes. Report on Health and Social Subjects No. 44. HMSO, London.Google Scholar
  10. Gey, K.F. (1994) The relationship of antioxidant status and risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease: a critical evaluation of observational data. In: Nohl, Esterbauer and Rice, Evans (eds) Free Radicals in the Environment, Medicine and Toxicology. Richelieu Press, London, pp. 191–219.Google Scholar
  11. Graham, S., Dayal, H., Swanson, M. et al. (1978) Diet in the epidemiology of cancer of the colon and rectum. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 61, 709–714.Google Scholar
  12. Lee, H.P., Gourley, L., Duffy, S.W. et al. (1991) Dietary effects on breast cancer risk in Singapore. Lancet, 337. 1197–1200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1992). Nitrate, Nitrite and N-nitroso Compounds in Food. Twentieth Report of the Steering group on the Chemical Aspects of Food surveillance. HMSO. London.Google Scholar
  14. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Department of Health (1994) ACNFP Annual Report. MAFF Publications, London.Google Scholar
  15. Phillips, B.J., Hughes, J.A., Phillips, J.C. et al. (1996) A study of the toxic hazard that might be associated with the consumption of green potato tops. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 34, 439–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Renwick, A.G. (1991) Safety factors and the establishment of acceptable daily intakes. Food Additives and Contaminants, 8, 135–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Shutt, D.A. (1976) The effects of plant estrogens on animal reproduction. Endeavour, 35, 110–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Wattenberg, L. (1993) Chemoprevention of carcinogenesis by minor non-nutrient constituents of the diet. In: Parke, D.V., Ioannides, C. and Walker, R., (eds) Food, Nutrition and ty. Smith-Gordon Nishimura, London. pp. 287–300.Google Scholar
  19. Zeilmaker, M.J., van den Ham, W., Jansen, E.H.J.M. and Slob, W. (1995) Molecular modelling of the fate of nitrite in the blood: implications for the risk assessment of nitrate. Human and Experimental Toxicology, 14, 694.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Lazarus
  • J. A. Norman
  • E. M. Mortby

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations