The New Foods ...Functional or Dysfunctional Foods?
Today, when you go shopping for food, it's like shopping in a pharmacy instead. Stacked on the shelves are cereals, salad dressings, margarines, milk and even water promising to fight heart disease, osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms and some gastrointestinal problems. The link between diet and health is thousands of years old, with Chinese medicine recognizing the connection as early as 1000 B.C. The relationship between food and health has taken center stage in the last few years with the creation of "designer foods" or "functional foods."
What exactly is a functional food?
A 1994 definition from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine states: "Functional foods are food (that encompass potentially healthful products, including any modified food or food ingredient) that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains." In other words, calcium-fortified orange juice, Gingko Biloba chips and eggs with omega-3 fatty acids are all classified as a functional food. However, under this broad definition, skim milk and low-sodium products would also be considered functional foods.
In the Beginnings of Functional Foods
We have been eating fortified foods, or foods with nutrients, vitamins or minerals added to them, since 1917 when food companies started adding iodine to salt to prevent the nutritional deficiency that causes goiter. But, functional foods are a new concept. They are foods manufactured to treat or prevent symptoms and disease not simply deficiencies.
The Latest in Functional Foods
Despite the inconclusive definition, functional foods have elicited considerable interest among consumers, manufacturers, marketers, clinicians, and scientists. As a result, many functional foods have already been developed.
According to government surveys that track nutrient intakes, three out of four American women and six out of ten men do not consume the recommended daily amounts of vitamin E in their diet. This, according to Kraft Foods, is the reason for the latest release in food fortification: a salad dressing called Kraft Taste of Life that will supply 50% of an adult's RDA for vitamin E in every (2 tablespoon) serving. Some other types of functional foods include:
- Vegetable oil spreads (Benecol claims to lower cholesterol ... and is doctor recommended)
- Yogurt with live bacteria (to improve the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system)
- Bread fortified with Calcium and Iron
- Liquid eggs with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals
- Peanut butter with vitamins and minerals
- Dried fruits with antioxidants
- Orange juice fortified with Calcium, and now Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Zinc
The American Dietetic Association's position is that "...biotechnology techniques have the potential to be useful in enhancing the quality, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and in increasing the efficiency of food production, food processing, food distribution, and waste management." In addition, functional foods, which again are defined as any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains are being developed and subjected to scientific evaluation. In recent years, the number of functional foods that have potential benefits for health has grown tremendously. Scientific evidence is accumulating to support the role of functional foods in the prevention and treatment of disease. Functional food components have been associated with the prevention and/or treatment of at least four of the leading causes of death in this country - cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension - and with the prevention and/or treatment of other medical ailments including neural tube defects, osteoporosis, abnormal bowel function, and arthritis.
Are Functional Foods Worth the Extra Money?
Since functional foods do not possess a legal definition, they do not have straightforward regulations, and they only may be partially monitored under the NLEA (Nutrition Labeling and Education Act). In other words, buyers beware! The FDA on the basis of available scientific evidence, and the presence of substantial scientific data that demonstrates a clear relationship ...