by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Functional-foods

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.

Apr 8 2009

Great news: probiotic ice cream!

Now here’s news we’ve all been waiting for: Brazilian food scientists have invented probiotic ice cream.  Probiotics, as you no doubt have heard, are bacteria like the ones that ferment milk into yogurt.  These are supposed to do great things for your health.  As I discuss in What to Eat, there is some – but not terribly compelling – evidence to back up this claim.

This product apparently looks and tastes like ice cream, but supposedly replaces nasty bacteria in your intestines with friendlier types.    But wait!  I thought freezing killed off most of those friendly bacteria.  Frozen yogurt has less fat than ice cream, but it also has way fewer bacteria than regular yogurt.

If this stuff ever gets onto the market, I’ll bet its makers advertise the number of bacteria they put into the ice cream, but don’t say a word about how few survived freezing and storage.

Functional foods (those designed to have some nutritional benefit beyond the nutrients in the food) are about marketing, not health.   They are supposed to make you feel good while eating lots of ice cream.

I don’t need probiotics to feel good about eating ice cream.  Especially ginger ice cream.  Or peach.

Added comment, April 9: Does freezing kill probiotic bacteria?  Yes it does, although “most” is an exaggeration.  As I discuss is What to Eat, the National Yogurt Association standards for regular yogurt require 100 million live bacteria per gram; its standard for frozen yogurt is 10 million bacteria per gram – a ten-fold decrease.   In bacterial terms, both are small numbers.  In any case, these bacteria may be good for you (and I emphasize the uncertainty), but watch out for the calories!

Feb 7 2008

A functional food dilemma?

Kellogg’s is doing its bit for America’s health by adding whole grain to guess which cereal: Frosted Flakes! Kellogg’s sets its own nutritional standards–Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria. This cereal meets them. Why do this? The whole grains provide enhanced nutrition for kids along with energy. Of course Frosted Flakes provide energy. They contain sugars!

Jan 23 2008

Welcome to Snickers Charged: Functional Candy Bar

Mars, which owns Snickers, brings us Snickers Charged, a line extension with more caffeine than a soft drink, taurine (an essential amino acid for cats), and a bunch of B-vitamins. Why do we need this? According to the public relations folks, “This new product responds to current marketplace trends and satisfies two need states craved by consumers who seek hunger satisfaction and a boost of energy.” Food, anyone?


		
Jan 5 2008

The best functional drink ever?

I am indebted to OrangeClouds115 who writes a diary for the Daily Kos (here’s an example) for telling me about Function drinks, this one called “House Call.” The Function website says: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away? The docs at Function think that’s slightly rude.” House Call keeps the doctor away? Um, maybe not. Orangeclouds115 reports: “You should see the ingredients. It’s sugar water. They sell 4 for $5.” As I say in What to Eat, functional foods are about marketing; they are not about health.  Alas.

Dec 16 2007

Detox in a box and other functional foods

My colleague Ellen Fried knows that I love to read articles about functional foods–the food industry’s hope for survival and growth. It’s a wet, snowy Sunday in New York and a great day to curl up with some good reading. Here’s what the Guardian Unlimited has to say about functional foods. Here favorite is Detox in a Box. I think mine may be the irony. The very companies that brought us junk food now want to put neurotransmitters in it. Can’t wait.

Oct 17 2007

More on health claims: coca-cola

While we are on the subject of health claims, can those be the reasons why Coca-Cola is off to China to look for medicinals that can be added to its drinks? The entire point of putting “healthy” ingredients into foods is to be able to make health claims for them. These “functional foods,” as I keep saying, are not really about health. They are about marketing.

Aug 1 2007

Scientifically engineered “superfoods”

Eating Liberally is now interviewing me on a regular basis in a post called “Let’s Ask Marion.” Today’s question is about foods created by technologists to introduce some health benefit–what I like to call “techno-foods.” It is timely because today’s New York Times has a report by Andrew Martin of his visit to the recent convention of the Institute of Food Technology. Are these foods really designed to make you healthy? Or are they about the financial health of their makers?