Consumer Trends: Shoppers Look to Functional Foods to Improve Health

CHICAGO (Newswise) — Rising health care costs and people’s increasing desire to take more control of their health are reasons consumers purchase and consume products that potentially offer health benefits beyond “basic nutrition,” according to a newly updated position paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Academy’s updated position, “Functional Foods,” has been published in the August Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and can be found on the Academy’s website. It states:

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to recognize that although all foods provide some level of physiological function, the term functional foods is defined as whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence. The Academy supports Food and Drug Administration-approved health claims on food labels when based on rigorous scientific substantiation.

Functional foods represent an aspect of complementary medicine that focuses on optimizing health. However, the term “functional foods” has no specific legal or medical meaning; it is primarily a marketing term, according to the Academy’s position paper. For that reason, the authors of the Academy’s paper write that health professionals such as registered dietitian nutritionists must “convey reliable information to consumers and policy makers, as well as become actively engaged in the research and development of functional foods.”

The Academy’s position paper notes the global functional food and drink market is expected to reach $130 billion by 2015, and this segment of the market will continue to transform the food supply in the 21st century. In particular, aging baby boomers will continue to seek functional foods tailored for specific health needs, including heart disease, bone and joint health, brain function and eye health, according to the position paper’s authors.

According to the authors: “Factors driving the functional food market include rising health care costs, the growing trend to self-medicate to keep costs lower, the increasing age of the population, the obesity epidemic and the high levels of lifestyle diseases afflicting millions of Americans. In general, functional foods have the potential to reduce health care costs while improving health and wellness, and can give consumers greater control over their health by providing a convenient form of health-enhancing ingredients.”

The Academy’s position paper was written by registered dietitians Kristi M. Crowe, PhD, RD, LD, assistant professor at the University of Alabama, and Coni Francis, PhD, RD, assistant professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy at www.eatright.org.

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