Can Ice Cream be a Health Food?

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Functional foods, you may recall, are those to which nutrients are added beyond those already in the foods. The latest example from Unilever: calcium-enriched ice cream!  The philosophy: "better-for-you" foods will improve health. Maybe, but is functional ice cream a good choice?

Functional foods differ from fortified foods, in which nutrients lost during processing are replaced. The addition of iron to white flour, for example, replaces the iron lost during the milling of whole wheat. Its replacement helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia.

So I suppose you can consider Kellogg's new fiber-enriched cereals to be a form of fortification. The PR people tell me that adding fiber "is another example of our continued commitment to improving the nutrition credentials of our products to meet consumers' needs and preferences." Their press release explains that Kellogg is doing this as a public service to improve kids' nutrition: It is starting with Froot Loops.

What kind of fiber and how much? Kellogg is a bit vague on these points, but says the fiber will be a combination of whole grain corn and oat flours and fibers. Metamucil, anyone? And why don't they just make whole grain cereals in the first place?

That's why I keep thinking that functional foods are about marketing, not health.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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