Numerous accounts of research have shown that diet and health are inextricably linked, but this is the point where clarity ends. Beyond this link, nutrition and food scatter through the opaque waters of commerce, federal regulations, conflicting health claims, and much more. New terms appear as information transmogrifies.
Nutraceutical is one such term that has freshly fortified the fickle food industry’s claims to health. Dr. Stephen L. DeFelice, founder of the nonprofit, The Foundation for the Innovation in Medicine (FIM), defines a nutraceutical as “a food, dietary supplement or medical food that has a medical — health benefit including the prevention and treatment of disease”. Probiotics are an example of a nutraceutical that has hit the food industry in recent times. But do these nutraceuticals actually offer all of the health benefits they assert?
This is the question skeptically expressed by many food scientists, activists, and consumers. Dr. DeFelice, whose profession is to research medical discovery, fuels this skepticism by stating that nutraceuticals have not undergone enough scientific testing to support health claims. His assertions are further substantiated by The American Nutraceutical Association (ANA), which states in an FAQ section that there are currently no FDA regulations or minimum manufacturing standards of practice specific to dietary supplements. Additionally, the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the safety of the nutraceuticals found within products the company produces. The FDA only becomes involved once repeated complaints about a nutraceutical have surfaced.
Adding support to this argument is food activist and writer, Michael Pollan, who proclaims that nutraceuticals come from faulty assumptions in nutritional sciences. He states that current nutritional science views food as the sum of its parts. From this assumption, arises the idea that if a nutrient such as Omega 3 provides health benefits in fish, when added to other commonly consumed foods such as bread or milk, the health benefits will be comparable or better. Pollan elaborates further by stating that nutrients work together for a complete health benefit; therefore, separating nutrients and then mixing them with other ingredients does not necessarily yield the same health benefits.
Despite the contrary arguments around nutraceuticals, they continue to abound in our foods. Consumers can take a few steps to ensure that they are well informed about these purported healthful nutrients. For example, consumers can become members of Consumer Lab, which is an independent testing company that works to identify the best quality health products. With a nominal fee of $54/year, consumers can access in-depth testing results on the products and supplements they most commonly use. Membership to ANA can also provide consumers with a plethora of resources and information about nutraceuticals. ANA further recommends contacting the manufacturer of products with nutraceuticals to find out more information about their specific testing methods. These resources can lead to a better understanding of nutraceuticals, so consumers are enabled to decide for themselves what to believe.
* Top Image from Forever Young Blog
* Apple image from Positive Choices