Are functional foods really snake oil?

Forbes magazine takes a major jab at functional foods, including probiotic yogurts, beauty-from-within drinks, omega-3-infused cereals, peanut butters with plant sterols and more.

The main questions raised in the article:

  • Is there solid research to back up health claims made for these products? “The foods promise to boost immunity, protect your heart and digestive system or help you sleep,” according to the story authors.

  • Do the foods offer the correct form of supplements in effective doses?

  • Are these products a good replacement for “real” food?

The resounding answers in the article: No, no and no.

What do you think of Forbes assessment of functional foods?

From the get-go, I got uneasy at the comparison of functional foods to drugs. If supplements (whether in foods or not) are like drugs, as the article states, where are all the bodies? Far, far more people have gotten sick—and suffered deaths—from prescription drugs than from supplements. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, “in the first full year that the law requiring manufacturers to report serious adverse events was in effect, FDA reported receiving 1,080 adverse event reports, only 672 of which were considered serious—for all dietary supplement products (vitamins, minerals, herbals, sports supplements, weight loss supplements and specialty supplements). For the same year, FDA received over 526,000 adverse event reports related to drugs and biologic products, over 300,000 of which were considered serious, including close to 50,000 deaths.”

As for the effectiveness of functional foods, I think it’s a valid question. Perhaps the Forbes article was skewed, but an investigation of the issue could at the very least help weed out any bad players, which ultimately hurt the industry. NFM plans to explore the topic in a future issue. As we develop the story, we’d love your thoughts and ideas. Sound off below.

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