Will a highly processed, sugary breakfast cereal help your kids avoid getting sick this winter? That’s the implied claim on packages of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies.
What they don’t advertise is that some version of sugar or partially hydrogenated fat (that is, trans fat) appears four times on the ingredient list.
Today, so-called “functional foods” are popping up on virtually every aisle of the supermarket. All too often, these products make outrageously unsubstantiated health claims based on the theoretical benefits of a few ingredients. They won’t keep the flu away, but they will make handsome profits for the food industry.
When it comes to nutrition and health, the only functional foods are the ones that come directly from nature: vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and minimally processed whole grains. These foods contain an abundance of health promoting substances and a high concentration of nutrients compared to calories. And unlike the latest breakfast cereal or vitamin water, the health benefits of these truly natural foods are backed up by robust science.
David Ludwig, MD, PhD, is the director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program.