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Foods that may have health benefits beyond the traditional nutrients that they contain are often called "functional foods." The concept of functional foods has become popular in recent years, first in Japan and later in other countries, including the U.S.

While it would be helpful if we could prevent a wide range of specific diseases by consuming certain foods, in most cases the science behind such an approach isn't very strong yet, and in some cases there is no scientific evidence at all.

In the U.S., the term "functional foods" has no official, universally accepted definition. Foods don't have to pass any test or meet any standard in order to be described as "functional." To help shed some light on the issue, a new report from the American Council on Science and Health...

The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday examining the latest trend of fortifying foods with extra nutrients. The article quotes ACSH advisor Dr. Adam Drewnowski, a nutrition professor at the University of Washington, who points out that the issue isn t so much whether these calorie-dense functional foods work, but how individuals perceive them: The trend is so new, we re waiting on this data, but because people assume their nutritional needs have been met, there s a chance they ll make poorer choices for the rest of their meal.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava adds: There are no daily requirements established for many of these added compounds, so there s no way for a consumer to know if the amount in a particular food will be too little, just right, or...

The bill granting the FDA expanded oversight of food industries won the approval of the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday. ACSH staffers are concerned about a number of provisions contained in the bill. Among them is the assignment of a research project to the FDA to further investigate possible health effects of bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used to harden plastics that has been repeatedly confirmed as safe in its current application.

It was an eleventh-hour thing where they snuck BPA into the legislation, says ACSH's Jeff Stier. They were already studying it for academic purposes, and now there s a legislative initiative to have the FDA write up a report for Congress.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross thinks the study will do more harm than good, even if it does...

This letter to the editor appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on June 16, 2004:

To the editor:

Roger Moore's review in Friday's Calendar section of the movie Super Size Me calls director/star Morgan Spurlock's downward spiral compelling. But what Spurlock demonstrated in his movie was just plain gluttony, compounded by an intentional lack of physical activity.

Although he says the movie wasn't really about McDonald's food per se, Spurlock still accuses the company of being one of the culprits responsible for America's obesity problem. If McDonald's is a culprit, so is every deli,...

Calcium-fortified orange juice, special fortified margarine, nutrient enhanced salad dressings, and other "functional foods" are advertised everywhere these days. Is there a scientific basis for the claims made on these products -- and should they be used by everyone? There is no across-the-board answer to this question; whether these foods are beneficial depends on several factors.

People should not automatically assume that consuming "functional foods" -- also called "phoods" to suggest pharmaceuticals -- will allow them to live longer, healthier lives. In a society that already has a ready stock of healthy fruits and vegetables, flocking to "functional foods" may bring no additional benefits. Some...

Sales of organic foods have soared in recent years. They are touted as cleaner, more nutritious and better for the environment than foods produced by conventional means. But are such claims really true? People are finally starting to examine these questions.

On February 4, 2000, the ABC News show 20/20 presented a report about organic foods by John Stossel a report that asked these questions about cleanliness, nutritional value and environmental impact of organic versus conventionally-grown produce.

The 20/20 investigators examined produce for cleanliness by measuring the bacterial count in water used to wash it, as well as the presence of pesticide residues. They found that only about five percent of all food samples were contaminated with bacteria. But, organic produce...

An October 15 New York Times piece by Marian Burros contained misleading information about the safety of irradiated foods. Ms. Burros must have been convinced about the toxic effects of irradiated foods, since she quoted and echoed the views of Public Citizen and the Center for Food Safety, well known for their stances against food irradiation technology.

The facts, contrary to Burros' article, are:

(i) It is the European Commission (EC), not the European Parliament, which has jurisdiction over issuing directives (regulations) on irradiated foods. Neither the European Parliament nor the EC put the "moratorium on almost all irradiated foods," but the latter issued a directive in 1999 that approved irradiated aromatic herbs, spices, and seasonings,...

MORNING DISPATCH 10/10/08: Tobacco, Infections, HIV, and Rights for Plants

ACSH's harm reduction approach attracts criticism
We received many comments yesterday about our support for R.J. Reynolds' new smokeless tobacco products, some taking issue with our harm reduction approach to quitting smoking. "While, in an ideal world, getting all smokers to simply stop being addicted to nicotine would be an easily attainable goal, this is not likely to happen in the real world," reiterates ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

New smokeless products, which dissolve in a user's mouth to deliver an...

Whether you’re in an all-natural foods store or the ubiquitous big-chain grocery store, you’ll find health claims on all kinds of foods. Are they really true, or are they all hype? According to a lengthy article in Sunday’s The New York Times, these so-called “functional foods” more likely fall under the latter category. Times columnist Natasha Singer neatly dissects the marketing tactics of the food industry trying to peddle the health benefits of functional foods. Clearly, the public is buying it — literally and figuratively: in 2009, the sales from functional foods amounted to $37.5 billion, up from $28.2 billion in 2005. New York University professor of...

The belief that some foods are better than others indeed that some foods are inherently good while others are inherently bad has become a well-accepted underpinning of current nutrition lore. What does it mean to speak of a food as being good or bad? How can you tell if the food you are eating is good or bad? Is it helpful or even possible to think about foods as being good or bad?

The Good, the Bad, and the Confusing

The labeling of a food as good or bad is usually justified on the basis of the nutritional quality of that particular food and/or how the components of that food contribute to or detract from our health. While at first glance this may seem...