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Functional Foods


By Betty Garrity MPH, RD   |   April 27, 2012
Glass of Orange Juice

Registered Dietitian, UC San Diego Medical Center

April 27, 2012 - Calcium-fortified orange juice, Ginko Biloba laced chips, Omega 3 enhanced margarine spreads and other “functional food” products are exploding on the grocery store shelves. Should the public believe their health and longevity will improve if functional foods are consumed? The answer is not so simple-maybe.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, reminds consumers that health claims on the benefits of functional foods must be based on evidenced-based science. If a product claims it can lower a person’s cholesterol level, there must be scientific evidence to back up this claim. This is not always the case when new products reach the grocery store shelves.

Some functional food products have strong evidence of a health benefit if consumed as part of a healthy and varied diet. Benecol (a fortified margarine), has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. On the contrary, health claims that products containing lutein (a carotenoid) will reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, have not been well -supported by the scientific evidence.

Buyer beware. It is up to the consumer to remain skeptical about whether these foods will provide a health benefit. Adding a food that contains a particular nutrient to one’s diet does not necessarily mean the nutrient will have the desired effect. And certainly, functional foods are not a substitute for a well-balanced diet, which is the cornerstone of good health.

Find a registered dietitian, the food and nutrition expert, who is uniquely qualified to interpret scientific findings into practical application for consumers at The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics