Tuesday, August 07, 2007
The future of food
Gummi bears infused with vitamins, just one display at last week's meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists. The IFT show drew 20,000 attendees.
By Caleb Hellerman
Senior Producer

Food technology: the application of food science to the selection, preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe, nutritious, and wholesome food.

I spent last weekend surrounded by food technologists. I was in Chicago, researching an upcoming Dr. Sanjay Gupta special about nutrition and obesity and attending a conference run by the Institute of Food Technologists. The FDA food safety chief was talking about spinach safety. Top execs from General Mills, Kraft and Campbell's were talking about kid-healthy foods. The Army was showing off its new MREs for Afghanistan, and there were sleeping models, a ventriloquist's dummy and a belly dancer. Let's just say that when the IFT puts on a show, it's a big one.

This year, the conference buzzwords were "nutraceuticals" (a combination of the words "nutrition" and "pharmaceutical") and "functional food." IFT spokesman Roger Clemens, also a pharmacy professor at the University of Southern California, predicts that in the not-too-distant future, "functional food" will be a $600 billion market - yes, he said billion with a "b." Even if there's some hyperbole - supermarket food sales as a whole totaled $500 billion last year, according to industry analysts - it's still a big market.

OK, but what are nutraceuticals and functional foods?

In Japan, according to Makoto Shimizu, a professor at the University of Tokyo, more than 650 products are approved as "Food for Specified Health Use," from fighting fatigue to preventing allergies. It's a lot easier to qualify for the label, than it is to get the ingredients approved as medicine in the U.S. But Clemens says the legal and regulatory climate is changing. "Where does food end and the medicine begin?" As the benefits of certain foods are examined more closely, he says, "Maybe the definition will change as to what connotes a drug."

You could find one simple functional food at several exhibitors' tables: vitamin-infused candy. Worthless, a prominent nutrition expert told me, although he didn't want his name used. I'm not sure I agree. Of course it would be healthier to eat a complete diet, full of vegetables, but who has the time? Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that barely 1 percent of children and teenagers meet government guidelines for a healthy diet. Neither they nor I were surprised.

If my kids are munching on candy anyway, is it really so bad if it's giving them their RDA at the same time? Is there a healthy food product you would like to see on the shelves?
Walking that road leads people to believe that its "ok" to eat junk food since it may contain some form of vitamins in it. We are already a "junk food" nation, and now we want to convince more people/kids that it's ok to eat? I find it hard to believe that there is any good logic in the comment, If my kids are munching on candy anyway, is it really so bad if it's giving them their RDA at the same time?. It would seem that Dr. Gupta has given up that eating healthy is possible, and that is surprising to hear from a person that promotes a healthily lifestyle.
I disagree with what Scott has said about "nutraceutical" foods. Barely 1 percent of children and teenagers meet government guidelines for a healthy diet. Many children, teenagers, and adults, for that matter, suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies which could be alleviated by fortifying candies and other snack foods with such vitamins. Hopefully as a result of such actions, future generations will have fewer health problems related to nutritional deficiencies.

-Michelle C. Brandon
I disagree that it is ok for children to munch on vitamin fortified candy. Too much of a good think can cause harm, and toxicities asociated with high doses of some vitamins occur. Other vitamins, when consumed in high doses have been linked to increased cancer risks and other conditions such as renal stones.
Healthier diet for kids. This is a difficult issue. These days parents have been busy and have no time to cook an ideal meal for their kids. I think it is a reality and it could be ok to give those kinds of "functional food" to kids, if on rare occasion. yes, Japanese people like to take a "Food for Specified Health Use", and can easily buy them at a drugstore or a supermarket. But, actualy, most of the people in Japan feel that the efficacy is doubtful and that it would be lucky if the foods nourish the body better.
Sure, it's better for someone who eats an unhealthy diet to get their vitamins, somewhere, anywhere -- even if they are in gummy bears. But like others have said, the problem is over-fortification. Where will we be when every food product contains extra vitamins and minerals (at point from which we are not too far)? Problems with too much folic acid are already being documented, as it masks symptoms of B12 deficiency. A simple multivitamin would do the job instead of techno-foods.

Not to mention, people have an incredibly hard time recognizing vitamin-infused candy for what it is -- candy. It's probably naive to think that food producers know this, and are hoping that even those consumers who are trying to eat healthier may purchase a functional food plastered with health claims rather than a healthier, cheaper whole food.
To quote your article, "Food technology: the application of food science to the selection, preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe, nutritious, and wholesome food."

I am waiting for an investigative journalist to become curious about all the ingredients that "preserve" and "process" our food. Look at the labels. What are these manmade chemicals doing to our bodies? How did they get approved by the FDA?
Does anyone else see what is terribly wrong with the whole idea of an industry making billions of dollars based on the world's paranoia of not getting enough nutrition into our diet?

Try eating some fruits and vegetables. If it is being made artificially, it probably is not good for you. If nature makes it, it probably will help you live longer.
My opinion is that if you can not get enough nutrition from your daily diet, vitamin supplements should be a good alternative.
"Doctors" weakly justifying eating vitamin-fortified jelly babies, whatever next. Surely a real/good doctor would only recommend naturally grown foods from uncontaminated (non-GM/organic) sources. The assumption of this article is that the jelly babies actually work and vitamin supplements actually get efficiently absorbed by the body. I believe the effects of vitamin supplements have been proven to be minimal and not a substitute for fresh fruit and vegatables. None of these engineered foods are neccessary. Our increased longevity is due to better treatment of disease and advances in surgery NOT "engineered health supplements".
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