Naturally functional or functionally fortified: Which should you choose?

Naturally functional or functionally fortified: Which should you choose?

Interesting tensions are afoot in the consumer packaged goods world, especially for those looking to hop on the health and wellness bandwagon. On the one hand, product developers are patting themselves on the back for their “better-for-you” re-launches. But this is just so much ingredient replacement or reduction. Food scientists are also involved in either “nutrition by subtraction” or “nutrition by addition” in their products.

The subtraction crowd removes refined flours and uses multi-grains, though usually it’s one grain doing the heavy lifting with the other grains coming along for the label copy ride. If they’re better, they’re substituting whole grains. Or, they’re taking out high fructose corn syrup and using Reb-A stevia, or perhaps going old school with cane sugar. They’re removing trans fats or sat fats, maybe sodium, perhaps gluten.

The addition crowd takes the hot and healthy ingredient du jour and inserts it into the processed food in a box. Omega-3s are the major target here, as are probiotics, antioxidants and vitamins. Some will use plant sterols for the cholesterol claim. That kind of thing.

I see three main directions in the food world today.

1. Fortified so as to be functional. This is the “addition” crowd.

2. Naturally functional: nutrient-dense, clean label foods that do not induce inflammation. Here’s my hot list of these naturally functional superfoods that consumers seem to be gravitating toward:

  • Orange juice
  • Cranberry juice
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Green tea
  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Dark chocolate almonds
  • Greek yogurt
  • Coconut water
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Blueberries
  • Chia

3. Food/supp/pharma convergence. This is stuff like extending shelf life for years. Or extracting stem cells from tissue taken from a cow’s muscle, growing muscle cells under tension to bulk them up in a petri dish, and the new muscle fibers are minced and turned into burgers.

I’m still waiting for truly progressive food product designers to develop foods and affect life. How about modulating brain chemistry for optimum office performance? What about sleep? How about libido? You know, the stuff we really care about!

So, should you make your next bread with resistant starch to give it functional characteristics? Or should you go clean label and use a flaxseed flour instead?

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