Antagonists who rave against processed foods always point out to loss of vital nutrients like vitamins during processing, besides the propensity of the industry to incorporate synthetic chemicals in the name of "processability" and better sensory quality. In contrast realists view processing as an inevitable step to preserve, conserve and extend food supplies for meeting the increasing needs of ever growing global population. The fact is that food raised in the farms is vulnerable to wastage due to many factors, some of which are beyond the control of man. But a substantial portion that, otherwise go waste, can be saved by application of food technologies available to day.
Beginning with the age old preservation techniques like pickling, sugar preserves, drying and other simple processes, there are a range of modern technologies which make use of principles like low water activity, thermal treatment, irradiation, low temperatures, low O2 tension, CO2 infusion, N2 packing, etc and large scale equipment with automated features characterize to day's food industry. During processing there is bound to be destruction of some of the nutrients, change in the nutrition value of the products and generation of some artifacts which may or may not be of health hazards. While developing the processes, care is taken to minimize such changes to the greatest extent possible. Fortification and enrichment techniques were evolved to meet such contingencies and it is another matter that almost all foods processed in western countries contain added nutrients, giving an impression that much of the original nutrients have been lost during processing, which is, of course, not rue.
Recent findings that Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is linked to longevity due to its beneficial effect on Telemeres and it has important role in strengthening dental structures, make it one of the most valuable vitamins. Its role as a natural antioxidant in food processing to protect against oxidation in presence of atmospheric oxygen lends it further credence as an important processing aid. Involvement of ascorbic acid in slowing down Telemeres shortening by 52-62% and thereby preventing aging has been well documented. Telemeres are the end caps of DNA that shorten with many generation and limit the number of replications of DNA.The irrefutable fact that mammals with capacity to make their own ascorbic acid live 8-10 times their age of physical maturity while in humans it is only 3-4 times, further confirms the role of ascorbic acid in conferring longevity. Production and repair of Dentine, the calcareous portion of tooth lying beneath the outer enamel layer, is aided by ascorbic acid and dental surgeons do use ascorbic acid therapy for fast post-surgery healing.
Processes like blanching, pasteurization, sterilization UHT, freezing, dehydration, canning and irradiation cause loss of ascorbic acid to the extent of 10% to 60%. Food industry does take some steps in cutting down such losses but much more needs to be done to prevent the loss of this important vitamin which can be considered the elixir of life. Excluding O2 during processing can cut down loss of ascorbic acid significantly while EDTA, cysteine and riboflavin increase its stability. Increased use of vacuum for processing or use of nitrogen atmosphere can be expected to stabilize ascorbic acid in the food. Future developments will have to keep this in mind in order to ensure that maximum benefit of natural ascorbic acid in native condition is delivered to the consumer. A daily intake of 60 mg, present in about about 200 ml of fresh orange juice can do wonders as ascorbic acid has may other roles also such as protecting against free radicals that damage cell DNA, aiding synthesis of collagen in muscles, boosting immune system, improving gum health and facilitating absorption of iron in the GI tract.