Functional foods can benefit health when consumed as part of a varied diet — but further research and consumer education are required, according to a new position paper from the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association.
The ADA, a member organisation representing 68,000 food and nutrition professionals, published the position in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
It states: "All foods are functional at some physiological level, but it is the position of the American Dietetic Association that functional foods that include whole foods and fortified, enriched or enhanced foods have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis, at effective levels.
"ADA supports research to further define the health benefits and risks of individual functional foods and their physiologically active components. Health claims on food products, including functional foods, should be based on the significant scientific agreement standard of evidence and ADA supports label claims based on such strong scientific substantiation.
"Food and nutrition professionals will continue to work with the food industry, allied health professionals, the government, the scientific community and the media to ensure that the public has accurate information regarding functional foods and thus should continue to educate themselves on this emerging area of food and nutrition science."
The paper includes definitions of the term as used in different countries and notes that 'functional foods' is not a legal term but a marketing term. The ADA defines functional foods as those which "move beyond necessity to provide additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote optimal health. Functional foods include conventional foods, modified foods (fortified, enriched or enhanced), medical foods and foods for special dietary uses."
The position statement was written by Clare Hasler, executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California — Davis, and Amy Brown from the Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Hawaii's John A Burns School of Medicine.
The paper on concludes: "The study of how diet impacts disease prevention and health promotion is more important than ever. Consumer interest in the health benefits of foods and food components is at an all-time high and will continue to grow. Food and nutrition professionals are uniquely qualified to interpret scientific findings on functional foods and translate such findings into practical dietary applications for consumers, other health professionals, policy makers and the media. Food and nutrition professionals must continue to be leaders in this exciting and ever-evolving area of food and nutrition."
Access the full text of the position paper here: http://www.adajournal.org/content/positionPapers#2008