In the News: Functional Foods or "Franken-Foods"?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Call me old-fashioned, but when I want the health benefits of a tomato, I eat a tomato. If I want more Omega-3 fatty acids in my meals, I sprinkle some flax meal on my morning oatmeal. And if I want the antioxidant power of blueberries, I eat blueberries.

That said, I sometimes buy eggs with extra Omega-3s and OJ with added calcium. But you'll probably never find a carton of OJ fortified with Omega-3s in my shopping cart.

Why? To me, it just seems weird.

Omega-3's, when added to eggs, come from the flax seed that's fed to the chickens. (And eggs from chickens fed a diet of greens and insects naturally contain more Omega-3s than those from chickens who eat grains and soybeans.) And that calcium in your OJ? It contains some naturally, and the rest comes from calcium hydroxide (usually via limestone). Not too "out there" for me. But the Omega-3's came from sardines and anchovies. While I love oily fish (mmm, mackerel), the (imperceptible) fish oil in my OJ seems a bit too "Mad Science" to me.

Functional foods (think extra calcium in your OJ) are commonplace in the American diet, and fortified foods (think 100% of the recommended daily allowances vitamins and minerals in breakfast cereal) have been around even longer. Ever hear of rickets, goiters or pellagra? Nope. You can thank Vitamin D in milk, iodized salt and B vitamins in flour for that. Those foods are fortified to keep us healthy.

Functional foods could be seen as a way to multitask your meals. You can get more nutritional bang for your buck from peanut butter that's been enriched with beet and kale powders. You can indulge in chocolate without the guilt when it contains broccoli, blueberry and watermelon.

Or they could be seen as "Frankenfoods," a strange marriage of food and science. Do you really need broccoli in your chocolate?

From the NYT:
Additionally, with recent rising costs in raw materials, flavorings and transport, many food companies are refocusing their research and development; instead of adding expensive ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes or honey-roasted almonds to existing products, the search is on for inexpensive “value-added” products that customers will pay extra for. Mars’s CocoaVia line of chocolate claims to offer health benefits because of high levels of antioxidants; an ounce of CocoaVia blueberry almond chocolate costs about $1.25, while an ounce of the same manufacturer’s Dove blueberry almond chocolate costs about 75 cents. In order to get the nutritional benefits from CocoaVia, the company recommends eating two bars a day — an investment of more than $700 and 4,000 fat grams in the course of a year.

Am I behind the times or a food purist? Are you a fan of multitasking functional foods? What is your limit for functional foods? Broccoli in your peanut butter? Spider silk in your milk? Better yet: What functional foods would you create if you could be a food scientist?

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If it doesn't alter the genetic makeup of the produce or food product when it is being grown then I am for fortified foods. Report
I would create peanut butter M&Ms that are full of protein, low in carbs, and packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but taste exactly like the original pbM&Ms! But, that's just me!!! Report
I drink my breakfast. Fresh banana, (pea. hemp. rice with chia seed) protein, green super food and yeast flakes and vegan omega swirl.. Never felt better. Report
I have Celiac's disease as well as a number of other food allergies. It is very hard for me to get all my nutrients from whole foods as I can't typically eat them. LOL! So, for me, eating fortified foods is helpful. I mostly take supplements to help get what I'm lacking from my diet due to health restrictions, but the Rice Milk I drink is fortified with Vit A, D, Calcium, etc. That's helpful since I eat absolutely no dairy. So, I guess it depends on each individual's needs. Report
I eat a pretty healthy diet and I think I get most of my daily requirements. I have flaxseed to add to cereal and baking etc. but I do buy the calcium enriched orange juice. Report
While I agree it's best to eat whole, real foods--if I can't taste the extra fish oil in the orange juice--why would I not drink it? The less I have to worry about getting my nutrients in the better! Report
no, no, no, franken foods are supposed to refer to genetically modified foods, this article is unclear on that issue. Of course drinking a coke enriched with vitamins is still unhealthy. However, that is fortification, not genetic modification. So it is not the same as a "frankenfood" which is just a scare-name to make people thing that their gm foods are somehow unnatural Report
I believe food manufacturers have been feeling the pinch, so to speak. So many people have become conscious of their eating habits that they've decreased their intake of junk foods. What's a company to do ? Why not take a junk food, pump it full of vitamins and claim that it has added health benefits ! They can even increase the price to make it seem like people are buying something "healthy".

Example, how about the new version of Coke that has added vitamins ? It's still a Coke. It still has all the added sugar, chemicals and preservatives.

No, Franken foods are nothing more than a way for companies to make a buck. I can do with out, thank you.

Putting calcium in orange juice is not genetic modification(GM), nor is putting a sardine in your OJ. GM is the splicing of genes from two different organisms to get a desired result. Thats two genes from natural, regular, ordinary, mundane plants. it is a great way to help people with allergies to get the nutrients they need or for those of you who hate fish to be able to get the fishy nutrients.

The reason GM has been give a bad name is that big farmers have misused its originally benefical purpose. They have done things like make a crop resistant to pesticides and then doubled the amount they spray. Thats not how it is supposed to be used.

A lot of people are worried about global warming, but when gm can produce crops more resistant to heat or requiring less rain they say that it is unnatural. well you go ahead and starve to death while i enjoy my tasty seedless grapes. Report
We try to eat natural foods. . . If my great grandma wouldn't recongnize it, we try not to eat it :) However, I can't argue with those options being out there for people who want/need them. . . Also, I don't have picky kids, some people do. Report
Genetically modified, I definitely stay away from when I can. Really, we should not be playing God with our food. But a Total muffin and a glass of calcium added OJ sits better in my tummy than a honkin' big vitamin. Report
We already have so much modified food in our midst, as others have said. Fruits and vegetables modified so that they stay fresh longer, resist pests, display more pleasing colors and in some cases combine two things to make a new one (Grapples, anyone?). So for those who are freaking out about modified foods, relax. You're probably already eating them.

Now having said that, this idea of adding heretofore unknown nutrients to foods that never had them may not make sense, but how is it so different from taking a multi-vitamin to supplement one's diet? Multivitamins aren't food. They are synthesized supplements that your body can and will use. So what if CocoaVia has added anti-oxidants and people are willing to pay top dollar? That's simple capitalism, kids. Report
I don't normaly like peanut butter that much, but broccolie and peanut butter is discussting to me a lot of food now is chemically just watch what you eat. Report
I prefer to eat as close to nature as I can and buy local and organic as much as I can afford. I also grow a lot of produce. However, I still do and will probably always take a supplement just to cover my bases. I know I rarely (probably never!) eat perfectly and I like having the supplement to fill it for whatever I might be missing. As for the added stuff in foods, I don't mind it, but mostly I don't care. I do buy the added calcium oj and waffles for my family. I don't go much beyond that though. Report
I prefer natural foods and about the only added stuff i get is the calcium OJ, etc. I also like the smart balance stuff but end up using olive oil more than not. Report
I do buy calcium-fortified OJ, and iron-fortified cereals. Flour is always fortified.

But broccoli in PB? Weird.

Better to eat PB on apples or celery.

Personally, I prefer to eat more natural foods. Since I buy _very_ little processed foods, even things like "calcium-fortified OJ" aren't in my shopping cart. But I do feel everyone should be free to eat the way they choose - we're all responsible for our own choices.

Maya Report
I'm allergic to fish so does that mean having a glass of omega 3 oj could cause a reaction? The thought terrifies me. The best action is to always read the label - on every product - each time you buy it. Recipes change and ingredients come and go. Report
I tend to like my food as close to natural as possible, and eat around the edges of the grocery store. The less processed the better. But that's my opinion, and everyone has one. Report
sometimes i eat these foods, but others they seem too good to be true. Report
I prefer to get all my nutrients from wholesome, natural food--except when my doctor(s) recommend, usually based on tests, supplements. I now take additional Vitamin D, because a blood test showed I was low. Low D has been shown in reliable studies to have an especially detremental affect in breast cancer patients. (I've clocked five years without a return--Yeah!) Report
I'm all for good nutrients, and getting more bang for your buck. But i do have my limits. i lately have been working on eating more natural, raw vegetables and fruit and pure juices. I'm even in the market for a vita-mix machine, just waiting to find a good price on one. I am a low carber too. so I used to eat the high protein/low carb bars regularly. Now not so much. Only once in a while. Again trying to stay away from over processed things. Report
I have to go with the eating more natural side of this one. Mostly, because suppliments tend to make me sick. I feel far healthier getting my nutrients in their natural form. That said, I have to agree with being glad that some fortified foods (like vitamin D in milk) have done a way with a lot of diseases. Report
My boss and I were just talking about this yesterday. I think that certain foods have certain vitamins and minerals because they work together the way they are supposed to. If I add omega 3s to my orange juice, is a cup of that going to be as effective as eating an orange and a filet of salmon? With the knowlege I have, albeit little, I don't think so. This is why I prefer my balanced, functional, natural foods. Just my two cents... Report
As Ferocity mentioned we've been eating genetically modified and selected foods since the dawn of civilization. The sweet corn we eat today bears almost no resemblance to the indigenous crop the Pilgrims ate at the first Thanksgiving. We have too much else to worry about in this world than being afraid to eat GMOs. Enriched and fortified foods are what we should expect and demand -- more efficient foods for the dollar.

People, please don't believe the paranoid line "GMOs cause cancer." Does anyone have actual lab studies that prove this? I didn't think so. We have been modifying plants and animals since prehistoric times!!! Take a biology class and stop believing everything you read on the internet.

The only "scary" thing about GMOs is that they are easier to grow and more profitable than other crops, which COULD result in farmers switching to growing things like corn and soybeans instead of wheat, thus causing wheat shortages. Report
I'd rather get my nurtients from natural sources because of the other benefits that you usually get with fruit and veg, e.g. fibre. I think some people think they can take supplements and not eat healthy food and be ok, I can't imagine that the body processes unnaturally derived vits and mins as well as it doe sthe natural. I'm vegetarian so people aslways ask if i take supplements and I don't because I get all I need from my diet, my iron and other levels are perfect. the only supplement I have to take is B12 because I have a deficency. Report
LOL, I must be a heretic because I have no problem with eating "Franken Foods." We've been manipulating our food since the dawn of agriculture (i.e. selective breeding) - this is manipulation on a molecular level, that's all. I'll keep my eyes open for unbiased reports about what effects - if any - are caused by engineered food, but I'm not going to worry about it too much. Report
I don't see anything wrong with adding nutrients to juices and such. We can all chose if we think that we could use the supplementation or not. For instance, my husband doesn't drink milk and when I get o.j. with calcium and vitamin D added it's a good thing for him. Obviously, eating clean is best. Some people just don't have the time or desire to go that route. Report
I don't want chemically engineered fruits and vegetables, that's my idea of "franken-foods"
But if they add something healthy to a chocolate bar or something to make orange juice even better for you etc. then more power to those things. It save calories I guess so you can get all you rda vitamins and minerals without eating some of the things you might not like. It also caters to picky eaters like myself. Report
I agree nothing like a farm fresh Egg!!! Keeps the bug population down also!! We grow our own veggies and nothing like the real fresh goodness!! Report
I don't like things added to my foods, I prefer the natural taste. I hate calcium added to OJ as it changes the flavor. I get my calcium and other healthy stuff mostly from natural places, dairy, seafood, or vitamins. Report
I think there is a big difference between adding stuff to a product ( which is sort of okay, but weird sometimes), and genetically messing with stuff so contains 'alien' DNA. The latter is frankenfood...I don't like it and I want it to be labled as GM so that I have the option. It isn't likely this will happen because GM stuff is already out there in massive quantities and giant agri/foodcorps do not want this to happen. Report
i can't help wondering if consumers didn't say the same kinds of things about iodized salt or fortified cereals and breads. It's the same concept. And i, for one, am GRATEFUL that scurvy, rickets, goiters and pellagra are a thing of the past!
Ditto: Frankenfoods are scary. Haven't humans learnt that interfering with nature too much causes problems, you know, like cancer? Yuck. I say leave well enough alone. Report
Franken foods are scary. Report
I buy 'frankenfoods' regularly. Wouldn't Goldfish with added calcium be better for my kids than plain ole Goldish? Report
I won't go out of my way to find, or to avoid, food with added vitamins or nutrients most of the time. I try to eat a balanced diet with lots of whole foods, and do take a multivitamin just in case. What I WOULD avoid are genetically altered foods. Nature made a tomato the way it is for a reason, and I would much rather eat something that's naturally occuring. I worry about side effects from altered foods and think it's the height of hubris for scientists to "mess around" with our food supply. Report
I wouldn't waste my money on the franken foods. I prefer natural. Report
As a vegetarian, I don't want animal products hidden in foods I buy. At least if manufacturers are going to do that, it should be stated in plain English on the label. That way consumers can choose if they want to buy it. Report
Has anyone read any of Michael Pollan's books on these topics: The Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food? Good reads about Franken Foods and who wants to sell them to us. Report
I'm very basic and like to keep things simple. Report
I guess I'm like the writer in some respects, I will buy them especially if its something I know I need, but if its too far out then no. I just can't seem to wrap my mind against certain things. Maybe as time goes by and it becomes more commonplace i'll consider it but for now I'll just continue eating a variety of foods. Report
Orange Juice has alot more calories then a plain orange, so I'll eat the orange and if I need vitamins and minerals I'll just take a pill. Report
LOL Love the omega 3's chicken thought. Every time I saw those eggs I couldn't help but thinking about the same thought. Sometimes I think the idea is good but nothing is better than the real things. Report
Give me the real thing. If we get lulled into eating OJ with calcium or omega-3's and don't eat dairy or fish, then we're missing the micronutrients that the unprocessed food provides. A vitamin tablet doesn't provide us with a balanced diet, neither does bread and water. We need fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, poultry, meat, and dairy to get ALL of the nutrients (both macro and micro) that we need.
While we're at it, forget about the orange juice, eat an orange instead. You're missing out on fiber (an very important dietary element) when you make juice.

We would all do better if we would eat REAL food and stop adding 'stuff' to make up for the MAJORITY that eat poorly. Report
I do try to get a good nutrition by choosing organic, locally grown when possible, over conventionally grown produce or conventionally raised animals. Conventional practices devoid produce and animals of nutrients and give you as a bonus residual fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Functional foods and frankenfoods were created in an attempt to fulfill the nutritional deficit created, although, of course, through synthetic methods. Added vitamins are always in a synthetic version. Report
Wow, I guess this was a good subject for discussion, I never dreamed all of all these possiblities. Used to, since none of us ate right, we were offered a multi-vitamin. Now we can drink OJ to get fish oil? (Omega 3) Well, it really boils down to, eat it with as little processing as possible and its probably best, if you don't eat as healthy as you should, (like me,) a few "Frankenfoods" are probably going to do you some good! Report
$700 a year for CocoaVia! YIKES! I think I would rather take some raw almonds and pour some chocolate sauce on top.

I think it is crazy the combination of food items the manufacturers are coming up with...what happened to good ol' peanut butter and an apple? The real McCoy foods... Report
I agree my chickens are let out to eat bugs and they eat greens everyday. They have some yummy eggs. Report
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