Thursday, June 17, 2010

Functional Foods, Nutraceuticals . . . Who’s In Charge Here?

Are we talking about something that’s good for us, as the title would imply, or are we talking about a marketing strategy? Read more and decide . . .

And, exactly what are functional foods and nutraceuticals? Functional foods have been created so that consumers can eat an enriched food product close to its natural state—in place of taking a dietary supplement. These foods are enriched or fortified through a process called nutrification, which restores the nutrient content of a food back to a level from before the food was processed. (Seems like a pretty round-about way to eat something good for you.) Actually, aren’t all foods functional in the sense that they have nutrients or other substances that provide energy, sustain growth or support vital processes?

Now, combine the words nutrition and pharmaceutical and you have a nutraceutical—a food or food product (or supplement) that supposedly provides health benefits. There is minimal regulation over which products are allowed to display the nutraceutical term on their labels yet almost two-thirds of the American population takes at least one type of nutraceutical health product.

Do you remember way back, when once upon a time, people actually ate real food? But, today too many of us are consuming too many food-like products—and too little real food. And, even if we don’t realize it, we’re buying more and more functional foods. Food manufacturers don’t want us to stop buying their products—and now the big trend / trick is dressing up these make-believe foods with a healthy image. Look at the addition of vitamins to soft drinks, calcium to ice cream, milk and orange juice; and omega-3’s to any number of products.

There’s still more to consider . . . we’re eating more (more calories and fat), because we think we’re eating something that’s good for us. In a way, functional foods and nutraceuticals are really “calorie distracters.”

If we look at these “designer” foods as a relatively new marketing technique we might come to the conclusion that we’re being had. And we’re paying more for it—these foods aren’t inexpensive. So . . . what if we actually ate more foods as they were intended to be consumed—in their natural state? And, if we spend time preparing those foods ourselves, we’ll know exactly what we’re really eating.

Our question—would you rather consume your calories from something fresh, natural and real, or from a food product that’s been processed, engineered and given a catchy name?

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