Shop Smarter for Real ‘Functional Foods’

by Chris Curley on June 20, 2012

The tough skin of the avocado protects the fruit from pesticides, so buying organic isn't necessary.

“Functional foods,” those nutrient-fortified, antioxidant-rich foods said to do wonders for your health, may not be all they’re cracked up to be, the Washington Post reported June 18.

Health claims for food products have to be significantly substantiated by science, so often you’ll see promotional phrases like “fortified with calcium” (which doesn’t make a direct claim about your health) or “full of heart-healthy fiber” (the fiber is heart-healthy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the product is) that just skirt the edges of falling under government regulatory scrutiny.

Take pomegranate juice, for instance. Manufacturer POM Wonderful faced a cease-and-desist order from the Federal Trade Commission this year for overstating its health claims (everything from preventing and treating heart disease to erectile dysfunction). Pomegranate juice is high in antioxidants, and while research shows the juice may reduce stress and lower blood pressure, the other health benefits remain unproven.

That doesn’t mean that foods that make healthy claims are bad for you, only that labels can often be misleading. While the “organic” label sounds great, for instance, don’t waste your money on organic fruits and vegetables that have tough rinds like oranges, avocados, and onions, since pesticides don’t reach the edible part of the fruit, anyway. And keep in mind that a sugary, fatty, or carb-heavy food is probably not great for you, no matter how many nutrients it’s been fortified with.