Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Feds Get Set to Adjust 'Functional Food' Regulations

It's difficult to walk through the aisles of most grocery stores today without finding all kinds of new foods and products that promise to boost your health. As a society, we're becoming increasingly obsessed with being as healthy as possible, taking matters into our own hands to prevent disease at all costs and seeking new, innovative products along the way to help us achieve these goals. There's nothing wrong with wanting to remain healthy and disease-free, but how extreme do we need to go? Thanks to the potential of new, looser 'functional food' rules, we may soon have more options than ever before when it comes to modified foods and nutritional supplements. But is this a good thing?

A functional food or neutraceutical can be defined as a food or product that goes "beyond the basic nutritional benefits" with "potential disease prevention and health enhancing compounds". A great example of this is BioBest's new yogurt with plant sterols. Yogurt already contains probiotics, calcium and magnesium, just to name a few benefits, but consuming this yogurt can also (possibly) help you fight against heart disease and lower 'bad' cholesterol levels. That's a lot of punch to pack in a little container. But according to Agriculture Canada, we're actually quite behind the times when it comes to the selection of innovative products available on our shelves. Compared to Australia and the U.S., we could be offering a lot more products and encouraging innovation in the food industry at the same time.

However, while some groups applaud this new action plan, others are far more critical. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff from the Bariatric Medical Institute has stated that “The only purpose of adding vitamins and minerals to food is to sell more food,” adding, “The goal is not to protect your health but to sell products." The Canadian Public Health Association and Dietitians of Canada agree with Freedhoff's sentiments that “All we're doing is putting lipstick on bad food,” like margarine and cookies.

This is not to say that there is no value in having a wider range of products that could improve our health, but as with any policy change, there will be consequences for consumers, both positive and negative.