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Taking a Stand on Functional Foods

For some time now, researchers have been extolling the virtues of functional foods, those whole, fortified, enhanced and enriched foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the active components in functional foods found in plant sources are called phytochemicals, while those derived from animal sources are called zoochemicals (see related story on page 79).

To ensure that health professionals and the general public get the message about functional foods, the ADA issued a Position Paper on their role and future in the May 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Here are some of the chief points about functional foods covered in that paper:

  • Health-promoting functional foods have the potential to ensure a healthier population.
  • The ADA supports research to further define the health benefits of the physiologically active components in different functional foods.
  • Each functional food should be evaluated on the basis of scientific evidence to ensure the food’s appropriate integration into a varied diet.
  • Safe intake levels for functional foods need to be established based on current scientific information on special populations and individual variances.
  • Health professionals can play a role in educating the public about functional foods by working collaboratively with food and nutrition organizations to develop standards for safety and health claims; by participating in research studies in this field; and by providing credible information to consumers, other health professionals, the food industry and the media.

In conclusion, the ADA Position Paper urges health professionals to serve as “leaders in this evolving area of food and nutrition.”

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