by Marion Nestle
Jun 4 2009

The latest functional foods!

Functional foods, you may recall, are those to which nutrients are added beyond those already in the foods.  The latest example from Unilever: calcium-enriched ice cream!  The philosophy: “better-for-you” foods will improve health.  Maybe, but is functional ice cream a good choice?

Functional foods differ from fortified foods, in which nutrients lost during processing are replaced.  The addition of iron to white flour, for example, replaces the iron lost during the milling of whole wheat.  Its replacement helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia.

So I suppose you can consider Kellogg’s new fiber-enriched cereals to be a form of fortification.  The PR people tell me  that adding fiber “is another example of our continued commitment to improving the nutrition credentials of our products to meet consumers’ needs and preferences.”  Their press release explains that Kellogg is doing this as a public service to improve kids’ nutrition: it is starting with Froot Loops.

What kind of fiber and how much?  Kellogg is a bit vague on these points, but says the fiber will be a combination of whole grain corn and oat flours and fibers.  Metamucil anyone?  And why don’t they just make whole grain cereals in the first place?

That’s why I keep thinking that functional foods are about marketing, not health.

  • Anthro

    I think you are absolutely right to be suspect of their intentions. What a bunch of silly doublespeak in the Kellogg press release!

    Calcium added to ice cream takes the cake (or ice cream) for sheer marketing silliness. Do people really respond to this stuff? (Obviously they do, sadly.)

  • ABR

    I take your point…at least partially.

    Certainly, if a parent is relying on Froot Loops to be a significant source of fiber in their child’s diet, there’s something wrong. But if their children are already consuming the cereal, the added fiber may make the parent feel better and deliver the child some needed fiber. What’s the big deal?

    And, personally, if I’m going to eat ice cream anyway (and believe me, I will), why not get some extra calcium (or probiotics or whatever) with it? I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

  • Mary

    Speaking of functional foods, I have heard someone recently quoting Marion on Golden Rice. But they seem to have old information. There’s new information on the levels of vitamin A–I just saw that study.

    Can you speak to that research? Was it good work and done properly? Looked promising to me.

  • Marion

    @Mary–I discuss the Golden Rice issue in my book, Safe Food (2003). I am currently working on an updated edition, but the recent research demonstrating that beta-carotene is absorbed from the rice and converted to vitamin A really doesn’t change anything. I never doubted it would be absorbed and converted, as long as there was some fat in the diet (butter in this case) to aid absorption.

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