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Functional Food What is That, Ask First

Functional foods could be the rage today in advanced countries. But consumers seeking shortcuts to good health had better ask some tough questions before they decide to go in for the aggressively marketed brands.

Currently the international functional foods market is a $40 billion industry.

Functional foods include:

* Margarines that lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

* Probiotic yoghurts - laced with cultures of bacteria that promote healthy digestion.

* Omega3-enriched muffins, bread and dairy products - for cardiovascular and mental health benefits.

* A2 milk - contains naturally produced a2 beta-casein to help avoid health problems linked with plain milk such as coronary heart disease, childhood diabetes and autism.

* Manuka honey - healing properties, also used as cure for stomach ulcers.

* Herbs and herb-derived products that include echinacea, which studies say can more than halve the risk of catching a cold. More than 800 products containing echinacea are now available.

* Breakfast cereals enriched with vitamins and minerals.

* Kiwifruit extracts - products designed to relieve the symptoms of common digestive complaints such as constipation and heartburn.

* Sports drinks that boost energy.

* Functional foods due to be launched include: Cosmetic yoghurts which claim to "nourish the skin from the inside", soft drinks with added vitamins and minerals, a pasta enriched with grape seed extract claiming to protect the retina in diabetics and cranberry chewing gum to prevent gum disease.

So it goes and constantly expanding. But experts are warning that the actual benefits of these foods could be dubious and hence suggest consumers to be wary of falling prey to aggressive brand advertising.

"Millions of people are consuming these foods and the people who make functional foods ar
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