New Hope 360 Blog

Do functional foods reinforce bad eating habits?

Consumer research shows that increasingly shoppers are looking for foods with immunity claims. With obesity rates at an all-time high, should we really be turning to processed foods for nutrition?


An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but who needs apples when there are cookies, crackers and chocolate bars that promise to do the same thing? Foods that claim to "support" or "strengthen" defenses are popping up in processed foods on nearly every aisle.  Just the other day I received a nutrition bar that claimed to "assist immune system response." It was also high in sugar. While the product tasted fine. I can't imagine reaching for it at the first sign of a cold—but I may be alone.  

Consumer research shows that increasingly shoppers are looking for foods with with immunity claims. "The only labels that are more popular are, supports heart health and lowers cholesterol. That's a big wow. It shows that immunity claims are strong, and they're not going away," said Maryellen Molyneaux, president and managing partner for Natural Marketing Institute, a Harleysville, Penn.-based consulting and market-research firm. 

Put aside the fact that most consumers can't determine products that are pixie dusted with immunity ingredients from those that actually offer an efficacious dose. That's a topic for another day.   

With obesity rates at an all-time high and school kids unable to identify common vegetables such as potatoes and celery, is American's newfound fondness for fortified processed food a step in the right direction? I don't think so. My worry is not that shoppers will select the immunity enriched cookie over the regular Chips Ahoy, but that they'll have even more incentive to rely on processed foods for daily nutrition. What they offer is pretty enticing for time-starved parents. Instead, what we should be doing is encouraging shoppers to head to the produce section for immunity foods that also offer fiber and are low in fat and sugar. Ironically though, this is the one area of the store where immunity labels are absent. Who can profit from immunity mushrooms?

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