The ancient Greeks considered any civilisation that did not know how to use food as medicine to be ignorant. The idea that the foods we consume have an impact on our health and wellbeing is undisputable, recent figures show that up to 30–40% of cancers can be prevented by dietary and lifestyle measures alone. The issue lies within the fact that most modern medicine does not include nutrition. This project was born out of a chance encounter in 2018 between Kitchen Theory founder chef Jozef Youssef and Dr Kirill Veselkov. Dr Veselkov is a computational scientist at Imperial College London whose work is focused on using artificial intelligence to carry out research related to the effectiveness of compounds in pharmaceutical drugs on various forms of cancer. A conversation over dinner evolved into research that began exploring the potential of food molecules (similar to those in the pharmaceutical drugs) that exist in everyday ingredients. Since this point, our team have been working with Kirill and his lab to explore the future of precision nutrition and food-drug interactions. The below is an excerpt from the paper published by Dr Veselkov, professor Michael Bronstein and Jozef Yousef et al: HyperFoods: Machine intelligent mapping of cancer-beating molecules in foods – Scientific Reports (Nature), December 2019:
With rapidly ageing populations, the world is experiencing an unsustainable healthcare and economic burden from chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders(1,2). Diet and nutritional factors play an essential role in the prevention of these diseases and significantly influence disease outcome in patients during and after therapy (3,4). According to most recent data, up to 30–40% of all cancers can be prevented by dietary and lifestyle modifications alone (5,6). Plant-based foods (i.e. derived from fruits and vegetables) are particularly rich in cancer-beating molecules (CBM) such as polyphenols, flavonoids, terpenoids and botanical polysaccharides (7).
Evidence from experimental studies has implicated multiple mechanisms of action by which dietary agents contribute to the prevention or treatment of various cancers (8,9). Being able to first identify food ingredients and later design “hyperfoods” that are richest in CBMs and having health promoting or therapeutic influence, represents an unprecedented opportunity to reduce healthcare costs and potentially enhance health outcomes for chronic diseases such as cancer (11).
We envisage that this first list of “cancer-beating” foods will serve as one of the pillars in the foundation for the future of gastronomic medicine and should aid the creation of personalized “food passports” to provide nutritious, tailored and therapeutically functional foods for the population. However, significant future work will be required to validate and quantify the therapeutic effects of these proposed hyperfoods as well as optimize cultivation, storage, processing and cooking parameters of their ingredients.