Functional Nutrition Whats in a Name

With the advent of functional foods, new terms have entered our vocabulary. Although not legally defined, here's what they generally mean and how they differ.

  • Functional foods: foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition
  • Phytonutrients: substances in plant-based foods with physiologically active components that have functional food benefits; also called phytochemicals
  • Prebiotics: nondigestible food substance that may stimulate the growth and activity of health-promoting, or "good," bacteria in the intestine
  • Probiotics: live bacteria that may promote health by improving the balance of "good" bacteria in the intestine
  • Synbiotics: products with both prebiotic and probi-otic substances that work together to keep the balance of "good" bacteria in the intestine
  • Zoonutrients: a term sometimes used for substances, such as omega-3 fatty acids, with physiologically active components, in animal-based foods; also called zoochemicals.

For more about phytonutrients, prebiotics and probiotics, and substances in animal-based foods that promote health, see chapter 4.

  • plant- and animal-based foods—offer bioactive, potentially beneficial substances.
  • For the functional benefits, enjoy food first, rather than supplements. Food has many more functional components that likely work best when eaten together, as nature provided.
  • Choose wisely. Foods fortified for functional benefits may not be the best choice, especially if they didn't have many nutrients or perhaps had a lot of calories to start with.
  • Use claims on food labels to find foods that match your needs. To understand what functional claims mean—and don't mean—see "Health Claims on the Label" and "Structure/Function Claims on the Label" in chapter 11.
  • Enjoy foods with functional benefits as part of your fat strategy for better health, not in place of appropriate medical care or medications. Tell your healthcare provider what you're doing.
  • Be savvy when you read about foods promoted with functional benefits. Junk science abounds! Nutrition research that's either misinterpreted or oversimplified often makes headlines. To help you sort through the information maze, see chapter 24, "Well Informed?"

Nutrient-Modified Foods: "The Haves and the Have-Nots"

Shop for foods positioned for nutrition-conscious consumers. For example, you'll find "good source of calcium," "more fiber," and "fat-free" foods. In many cases these foods are modified versions of traditional foods—often produced with less fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar, or sodium, or with more fiber or certain vitamins or minerals. Fat-free taco chips and fat-free refTied beans, high-fiber cereal, and reduced-sodium soup are some examples.

To create these foods, the food industry adjusts the ingredients. By modifying the nutrient content, the qualities of food often change. For example, to cut back on fat, some foods may contain more carbohydrates, such as starch or added sugar. Conversely, to lower "carbs," fat may be bumped up. These modifications may change the flavor and the mouth feel of foods you're accustomed to. Formulating foods with less salt often makes them less flavorful, too—unless other flavor-intense ingredients, such as herbs or spices, are added.

How can you fit today's nutrient-modified foods into a healthful eating plan?

  • Remember the big picture. Enjoy them in an overall way of eating that's varied, moderate, and balanced. For example, being "fat-free" doesn't mean calorie-free. And "calcium added" juice doesn't make it a substitute for all the nutrients in milk, although the juice may be a calcium-rich source for strict vegetarians or those with lactose intolerance.
  • Check the Nutrition Facts on food labels for foods with nutrient content claims. For example, cutting back on fat won't necessarily make a food low in calories. See "GetAll the Facts!" in chapter 11.
  • Count nutrient-modified foods in your eating plan just as you'd count their traditional counterparts. Either way, 1 1/i ounces of fat-free or of regular Cheddar cheese count as an 8-ounce equivalent from the Milk Group of MyPyramid. See "MyPyramid: Your Healthful Eating Guide" in chapter 10.
  • Look for products with flavor-boosting spices, herbs, and other ingredients—for example, reduced-fat or low-fat sausages with herbs. Extra seasonings boost flavor in products with less fat or sodium.
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