Nutrition Articles

The Quest for Functional Foods

Foods with Function or Designed for Deceit?

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Evaluating Popular Functional Foods
Let's use good judgment (and a little research) to evaluate some popular functional foods on the market today.

Activia Yogurt by Dannon
Dannon claims that "Activia Yogurt is clinically proven to help naturally regulate your digestive system in two weeks." The functional ingredient of this yogurt is the bacteria bifidum regularis.

Evaluation: There is no research showing that Activia Yogurt helps people who are bloated and irregular. Four studies have been conducted on “healthy” men and women who had no complaints of gastrointestinal problems. After two weeks, it took between 10 and 30 fewer hours for food to travel through their intestinal tracts. Dannon reports that this can reduce gas production, but they really don’t know since gas production was not measured. Dannon reports that this can also help with bloating, but since these volunteers had no intestinal complaints to begin with, no one knows this for sure.

Enviga by Coca-Cola & Nestle
The producers of Enviga claim that "when consumed regularly as part of a healthy diet and an exercise regime, Enviga may provide added benefits to help in weight control by boosting metabolism." The functional ingredients of this 12-ounce beverage include: 90 milligrams of green tea extract (known as epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG for short), 100 milligrams of caffeine, 20% of the daily value for calcium.

Evaluation: There is limited research on the calorie-burning efforts of EGCG and caffeine. The company funded research that reports drinking three cans daily, will boost your metabolism by 100 calories daily. However, the experiment lasted just three days and involved 32 people—a small number of subjects. All the participants were either lean or of normal body weight too. So who knows whether Enviga even affects the metabolisms of those who are overweight or obese?
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Natural is always best. I feel the same way with hybrid fruits and vegetables. When man starts tampering with what GOD intended, it becomes questionable. - 10/5/2014 10:57:21 AM
  • This looks like some kind of brand war. And the "goal" is to catch eaters in the middle. No wonder Americans obsess over food, but still eat the wrong things. - 5/11/2014 12:13:22 AM
  • I think that advertisers are extremely adept at finding the 'right' information to add weight to their product claims. We as consumers should be very wary of any product that has been modified too much. My personal belief is that if it has been laboritory processed in any way, then it is less healthy for us. I always try to keep processing as my number one guide to food choices. I can't in any way believe that any ingredient would make a coke drink or any other fizzy drink for that matter - more healthy or "functional". Come on people!! we just want it to be more "functional" because we like the taste!! - 1/19/2012 4:38:26 PM
  • Eat whole organic foods, cook whole organic foods from scratch, if man messed with it, don't eat. If it has a label, don't eat it. - 10/30/2010 10:15:55 PM
  • The biggest challenge is to break people of the habit of believing what essentially amounts to a marketing ploy on most of these "functional foods." My biggest pet peeve is the word "enriched" in wheat products. I've read time and again that in order to claim to be enriched, the process the wheat went through actually REMOVES most of the natural nutrients from the wheat before artificially adding them back in. I also know that when I consume enriched products, I feel more bloated after I eat. Whole grains do NOT do this to me at all.

    I also think it comes down to a major problem with consumers (Americans especially): the quick fix. If you don't regularly eat a healthy diet, perhaps eating enriched or fortified products every now and again will solve your diet dilemma. If you consume tons of fried foods, perhaps taking some extra supplements will help you run that fat through your system faster. A magic pill, a super drink, an age-old simple remedy: when all we really need to do is learn balance in our diets and to add exercise into our lives (even if that just means taking a 15-minute walk every day). - 10/16/2010 11:37:33 AM
  • Not the least bit surprised at this article. Yogurt in itself is GREAT for your digestion alone, without the expensive probiotics they purport to have added to the mix. I promote yogurt to patients who are on antibiotics, due to the fact it adds back good flora to the intestine. Go ahead and indulge in Acttivia if it helps...for some it does more than others. Those of us with NORMAL guts, won't notice any difference, so why are you eating it?! - 9/20/2010 6:21:29 PM
  • Great article. The key word in the claims is "may" (It "may" help/affect/etc). My initial skepticism about any "functional foods" seems to be right where this article takes us. I hope to see updates or further info on any more "functional foods" that are sure to be popping up soon.
    - 6/29/2010 10:11:08 AM
  • Any yogurt with bacteria should be helpful to the body, if not in one way than another. Bacteria help in microbe competition. - 4/22/2010 10:04:37 AM
  • I agree with BethProverbs31, except for feeding chickens marine plants. That's not their natural type of feed. Otherwise, I agree - leave well enough alone. Food's been good enough for people for thousands of years, for the most part - why mess with it now?

    Having said this, I do think that there are times when it's important to add things to foods to make them healthier, but don't try to "health things up" just for the sake of marketing or other reasons.

    About Activia Yogurt, since this seems to be a minor theme here :) - I love the stuff! It's my favourite yogurt, with the exception of a natural, totally local product (with the exception of strawberries when they're not in season). I don't care what it's supposed to do - I love the taste & buy it whenever I know it's on sale, which, unfortunately, isn't often in my lil' town. - 4/3/2010 4:15:43 PM
  • Interesting. The only one of these I've tried is Actvia, which had my stomach twisted in pain within a couple of days. Maybe it had too much fiber or something for me -- I have the same reaction from even one bite of a FiberOne bar, though the FiberOne yogurt causes no problems. - 1/24/2010 1:15:33 PM
  • Thank you Becky!

    I tried Activia because it was on sale. I didn't care for the taste at all and returned to my Dannon Light & Fit for less calories and better taste.

    I tried it but never believed the hype. - 7/18/2009 3:16:56 PM
  • MAMITABITA
    Every now and then I notice a slight "fishy" taste in eggs. I thought it was my imagination, but the article states the chickens are being fed "marine algae." So I'm wondering now if that is the source of the odd flavor. That alone would be enough to keep me from spending extra for Omega-3 enriched eggs.

    I no longer buy mass-produced grocery store chicken since 12-15% of what you're buying is some strange brew of added flavorings and liquid. But I remember once several years ago the "fish" flavor was so pronounced in some chicken breasts I had to throw them out. I read later that fish meal was a major ingredient in poultry feed. I'm not sure if that still applies to current mass-market poultry management.

    I guess this is going off-topic, but the main thing I look for in buying eggs is not organic or Omega-3 enriched, but whether the eggs are from "cage free" or "free roaming" hens. The very little bit I've read about how mass-market chickens are handled was enough to make me want to support the more humane chicken/egg producers.

    Who ever thought there'd be so many things to consider with plain ole eggs.....
    - 5/30/2009 9:53:34 AM
  • ZOOTZE
    The ultimate in enhanced, "functional" foods may be flouridated water, which is credited (by many) for improving children's dental health, and which most consumers of public drinking water systems have no choice about. Also purchased by most people without thought are cows' milk enriched with Vitamins A and D, and wheat flour products enriched with iron, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid. These products all respond to widespread and damaging deficiencies in the supplemental nutrients. Imagine if one had to purchase bread and cereal made with enriched flour only as an expensive, boutique product, or if enriched cows' milk cost extra. Those products wouldn't do much to improve the health of the poor children who once suffered from rickets, would they? - 5/24/2009 7:13:44 PM
  • I tried Activa Vanilla/ peach/ strawberry...stil
    l needed a beano, fan and room freshner. It also turned my stool white. Everyday for 10 days. No difference but....

    The Greek Yogurt yikes! no time for gas went right through me. I no longer need a laxative. I would gladly do this once a month at home in the evening. - 5/1/2009 9:11:55 AM
  • BETHPROVERBS31
    I believe that sometimes people go too far in trying to improve upon God's already perfect creations, as in the case of the Activia yogurt. I see nothing wrong with feeding chickens marine plants, as they eat a vegetarian diet to begin with, but adding ingredients not normally found in the food to begin with or altering it's genetic make-up is treading on dangerous and unethical ground as far as I am concerned. God doesn't need our help in improving His already perfect creations. - 1/11/2009 10:46:18 AM

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