Functional Foods are processed foods that claim to have a health-promoting or a disease prevention benefit beyond basic nutrition. For example “calcium fortified” orange juice, water that contains added vitamins, Vitamin D added to milk, and cereals with added vitamins and minerals that are sprayed on the cereal itself. In recent years there have been a flood of new fortified foods on the market. While these seem to be highly profitable for food manufacturers, are they all that beneficial to our health?
Functional foods have been around since the 1920″s when we started adding iodine to salt, then we had vitamin D added to milk and enriched flour for baking. Today we have Echinacea added to corn chips and herbal teas with every kind of health claim possible. You can hardly look at a packaged product on the grocery store shelves and not see some health claim on the packaging. The FDA began approving health claims in 1993 but very few claims have been given FDA approved. If you want FDA approval for a health claim you must have clinical studies that back up your claim. Food manufacturers are getting around the FDA approval process by making vague claims, such as “promotes a healthy heart” or “benefits a healthy lifestyle”. 95% of all functional foods have not been clinically tested; their claims are unsupported by clinical data.
The danger in all of these claims is that the public is being lead to believe that processed functional foods will make up for poor nutrition choices. You cannot supply your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs by eating fortified corn chips, fortified cereals or vitamin enhanced drinks. Functional foods often emphasize a few nutrients to the exclusion of others, creating improper balance of nutrients. Your body needs a variety of nutrients in order to remain balanced and keep your cells and systems functioning and healthy.
Foods that are truly functional are whole foods, raw fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and beans that provide nutrients in a way that is recognizable to your body. These foods offer a complete balance in nutritional value while in their natural state. Whole foods are absorbed easily, nutrient rich, promote health and are a natural source of vitamins and minerals. And a wide variety of whole foods will provide your body with the most balanced nutrition.
Don”t be confused by the manufacturer labeling. The most beneficial foods for your body are the natural foods that you find in your grocery store. Remember the less packaging and the more natural a product is, the better it is for you; those are the true “functional foods” that provide the most health benefit.