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Friday, January 16, 2009

Calcium-Fortified Lettuce?

Americans don't get enough of any nutrient, except possibly fat. Calcium is one that all studies agree that Americans of all ages, from teens on up, don't get enough of. So food chemists are putting calcium into all sorts of foods. Orange juice. Breakfast cereals. Soy milk. Bread. Water.

But lettuce?

Apparently. Food scientists Sunghun Park and Mark P. Elless think lettuce is the perfect vegetable for the purpose.

A new generation of calcium-biofortified lettuce is possible. Lettuce is an attractive choice for calcium biofortification. It is rich in vitamin K, and its daily consumption significantly reduces the risk of hip fractures in women compared to women who consumed lettuce at a lower rate. Therefore, the enhancement of calcium in lettuce could provide synergistic benefits to osteoporosis prevention. A large portion of women in the United States eat lettuce daily, suggesting calcium-biofortified lettuce for the prevention of osteoporosis would be consumed by a large target audience.

How in the world do you add calcium to lettuce?
One way to alter the calcium content in fruits and vegetables is to directly engineer these foods with calcium transporters. Simplistically, this strategy can be thought of as nutrient mining (biofortification)—where the nutrient is transported from soil into the edible portions of the plant. Specifically, a potential model for increasing the calcium content in edible foods would be to engineer plant endomembrane transporters to transport more calcium. The Ca2+/H+ antiporters, termed CAX (for cation exchangers), located on the vacuolar membrane, are important for calcium sequestration. This discovery led to an engineered version of a plant Ca2+/H+ antiporter, sCAX1, which could be used for calcium biofortification.


Whatever this means, the authors say it's applicable to other vegetables as well. Skipping the supplements and getting more calcium directly from good foods might be a way out of the huge calcium hole we've dug ourselves into.

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