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Fraga CG , Editor. 2010. Plant Phenolics and Human Health – Biochemistry, Nutrition, and Pharmacology. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons. 593 p. US $135.

When I began teaching food science courses in the 1960s, the field of nutrition had to be pulled closer and closer into my lectures; after all, food processing does affect nutrients, and describing/defining foods meant to also cover all those minor components we had been hearing about ever since biochemist Casimir Funk coined the term “vitamin” (vital amine) in 1912 and calcium and iron were leading the way for more and more important minerals to follow. By the 1970s, numerous academic departments of food science and nutrition had been created in North America and elsewhere. As the 1980s came upon us, instructors in food science/technology and nutrition saw a wave of interest in yogurt and antioxidants enter the picture. And with it has started a virtual tsunami of nutraceuticals, probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics. Over 30 years ago I predicted the eventual marriage of food science to pharmacology; and it has happened now, very much similar to the earlier union of food science and nutrition. Pharmafoods has become the nickname of the offspring that have been created. Who knows what the future will bring in the wake of this new development. Antioxidants are just the beginning and both the pharmaceutical and food/nutrition industries will see to their continued growth and acceptance.

There was a time when food was eaten to fill your belly so you could live and work. We gradually learned that certain foods were better than others and deficiency diseases were recognized and “nutrient fortification” was invented. Then researchers developed an interest in all those “good” but also “bad” components that lie beyond the 50 or so major and minor food constituents that populated our nutrition textbooks up to the 1960s. So-called health writers were the first to draw attention to “superfoods” and “miracle nutrients,” but also to food additives and contaminants. In the last few decades, the whole world seems to have gone through a paradigm shift regarding the way we look at food. Ask any old-timer who lived before the 1950s: fat has always been a precious commodity, no matter what plant or animal it came from; and sugar was only frowned upon by a few, but with a religious fervor and lumping it together with other gifts from the devil.

But I digress; professors always do. Today the media are abuzz with health news and information about what is good for you to eat. Even the government is into it and advises us to include ample fruits and vegetables in our diet. They are loaded with chemicals that grandmothers of yore never knew much about, but now most of us have an inkling of what antioxidants are and what they are supposed to do.

This scholarly book deals with antioxidative properties and contains the latest research insights on polyphenols, flavonoids, flavonols, catechins, isoflavones, phytoestrogens, stilbenes, curcuminoids, and resveratrol, to name the major players helping us to stay healthy and live longer. The book is not for the average layperson. It describes the chemistry of what is currently known about phenolic phytochemicals and provides plausible physiological explanations on how they are believed to fight the various diseases known as major killers. Some 62 eminent researchers from 14 countries have contributed to the book's 21 chapters, each a comprehensive display of what is currently happening at the cutting edge of such intersecting disciplines as food science, nutrition, medicine, and pharmaceutical research.