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ADA releases updated position statement on functional foods

CHICAGO The American Dietetic Association has released an updated position on functional foods that says fortified, enriched or enhanced foods can benefit a person's health when consumed as part of a varied diet, encourages further research and urges continued efforts to educate the public on such foods.

ADA's position, published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, represents the Association's official stance on functional foods:

"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."

ADA's position statement and accompanying paper were written by Clare M. Hasler, PhD, MBA, executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California Davis; and Amy C. Brown, PhD, RD, Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

The paper includes definitions of the term as used in different countries and notes "functional foods" is not a legal term but a marketing term. The American Dietetic Association defines functional foods as those that "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."

Examples of conventional food with functional properties include broccoli, nuts and tomatoes. Modified foods include calcium-enhanced orange juice, folate-enriched breads and foods formulated with bioactive ingredients like fish oils, plant sterol esters or lutein. Medical foods include PKU formulas free of phenylalanine. Foods for special dietary uses include gluten-free and lactose-free foods.

ADA's position paper reviews aspects of functional foods including:

  • Factors driving the growth of the functional foods industry, such as increased consumer interest in controlling one's own health; rising health-care costs; and scientific research linking diet to chronic disease reduction.

  • Regulation of functional foods in the United States, noting that "boundaries between what is a food and what is a medicine have been challenged by both consumers and manufacturers since the mid-1980s," leading to "dramatic changes in food regulation that have fueled a so-called functional foods revolution."

  • Emphasizing that health claims on the benefits of functional foods and their physiologically active components should be based on the standard of significant scientific agreement.

  • "Take-home messages" for food and nutrition professionals, such as staying informed on this growing field of food and nutrition; educating clients and patients on appropriate intake of functional foods in the context of a healthful diet; working with corporations to develop functional foods that maximize health benefits; conducting research that expands the knowledge base on functional foods; and working with government regulators "to safeguard the public by protecting the definition, use and regulation of functional foods."

ADA's position paper on functional foods 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."


Contact: Jennifer Starkey
American Dietetic Association

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