Advice on Successfully Eating Your Way Disease-Free

Written by Suzanne Leigh

A multi-billion dollar success is emerging in foods fortified with nutrients said to fight disease. But, do they taste good?

Not so long ago, food like cookies, salad dressing and chocolate were regarded as indulgences, consumed for taste alone. But a glimpse at your grocery store's shelves may convince you otherwise: margarine to lower cholesterol, caramel chews to boost bone density and cookies to help your child concentrate.

What's going on?

Welcome to the world of "functional foods" sometimes called "nutraceuticals;" foods promoted as containing active substances that improve health.

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Functional foods have been around since the 1930s when dairies started to fortify milk with vitamin D.
New functional foods include cookies, ketchup, caramel chews, potato chips and salad dressing.
Functional foods may be more expensive and less tasty than their non-fortified counterparts. 
There's nothing new about functional foods. Manufacturers have been fortifying orange juice with calcium for approximately a decade and dairies have added vitamin D to milk for more than 60 years.

What's changing is that multibillion-dollar companies like Monsanto, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Lipton and Procter & Gamble are jumping on the bandwagon of an emerging industry raking in over $3 billion in sales.

But will consumers buy them? In a review of popular functional foods, a food critic from The New York Times gave the thumbs down to eight out of 13 products. A dressing was described as having "the consistency of paint," a margarine as tasteless and a cookie as having a "hay-like aftertaste."

But if taste drives the success of functional foods, other practical concerns also play a part. Campbell Soup pulled the plug on Intelligent Quisine, a line of home-delivered, pre-packaged foods developed in consultation with the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association.

Initially marketed in Ohio, the products were never sold nationally because of poor sales. According to analysts, Campbell Soup failed because most people did not have adequate freezer space to store bulk pre-packaged meals.

Another downside: Fortified orange juices and margarines cost more than twice as much as their non-fortified competitors.

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