The Myth of “Functional Foods”

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Once upon a time, people ate real food. Food that grew or was raised near their homes, and then prepared at the home. It may have been bland and boring to eat the same food over and over, and it certainly demanded a lot of work, but people intimately knew what was on their plate.

Then came trade and technology and progress and lots of great things happened in the world, including access to new foods and spices and flavors.  Refrigerators and freezer and microwave ovens and TV Dinners followed. And fast food, and food science with additives and preservatives and busy families that forgot what it means to prepare a meal by cooking it from scratch.

For a while, the abundance led to great things. People were not hungry anymore. They lived longer. They could spend time on other things rather than food preparation.

But as a society we took things too far.

And the results of abandoning our kitchens are evident all around us. The “food” we consume today is making us live shorter lives than we potentially could. We are consuming too many food-like products and too little real food. So we try to educate ourselves on nutrition and nutrients and what to eat and what not to eat. We buy diet books and diet products.

And in the last few years, we are buying more and more functional foods. Manufacturers don’t want us to stop buying their products, and so the big trend is dressing up these pretend foods with a healthy image. This is done by adding vitamins to soft drinks, calcium to ice cream, and various other fortifications that create a health halo for products that are mere snacks.

And unfortunately, we as consumers are falling for this trick:

The industry calls these products “nutraceuticals” or “functional foods.” Critics say they could lead people to consume too much of certain nutrients, plus too many calories and fats.

New York University food scientist Marion Nestle calls them “calorie distractors.”

“Functional foods are about marketing, not health,” she said. “They delude people into thinking that these things are healthy,” and they often eat more than is wise, she said.

What to do at the supermarket:

Don’t get fooled or confused by slick packaging and health claims. The more you cook and prepare meals at home, the healthier you’ll eat. The less processed your raw materials, the more nutritious your meals. And the more water you drink instead of all the vitamin/energy/soft drinks, the better off your wallet and your body will be.

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  • Alicia

    I agree with you 100%. Read any food label and you will find that you are a eating a “food like substance” not food. There are so many chemicals in the food sold today it is ridiculous. No wonder this country has so much cancer and heart disease. It is such a shame marketing has convinced most of the country that packaged food is fine. My favorite (heavy sarcasm) is the carbonated beverage with vitamins.