The article linked below is about “additives” to food products marketed to offer health benefits, such as adding purified sardines to Tropicana Healthy Heart orange juice and Wonder Headstart bread.

From the article:

“These additives are often called nutraceuticals, broadly defined as ingredients that are derived from food, and that offer health benefits associated with that food. Nutraceuticals like garlic pills and cranberry capsules became popular in the 1990s, usually taken alone in the form of dietary supplements.”

“Now Kraft, Dannon, General Mills and many other companies are adding nutraceuticals to existing foods: “fat-burning waffles” made from a newly developed corn flour, cheese that kills intestinal parasites, even ketchup that regulates digestion, are on the shelves or in the works. New technologies in food processing, and a landmark 1999 court decision giving the makers of supplements broad leeway to advertise their health benefits, have brought this new class of enhanced foods to supermarket shelves.”

“However, recent studies on supplemental vitamin E, beta-carotene and folate (all of which fall into the broad category of “antioxidants”) surprised everyone by showing no benefits whatsoever for cardiovascular disease. “There is a great deal we don’t know about how the compounds in food are made available to the body,” Dr. Lichtenstein said. “Now we have to be more cautious about individual nutrients, though we should not close our minds, given the successes of the past.”

Fortified food is certainly one of the great triumphs of public-health policy. When vitamin-B-enriched flour was introduced in the 1940s, rates of pellagra plummeted. Iodine-fortified salt virtually wiped out goiter, and vitamin-D-enriched milk eliminated rickets in children. But some experts say that such carefully designed campaigns have little in common with the fortified products now turning up in supermarkets.

“Those decisions were based on rigorous public-health studies,” said Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, a professor of endocrinology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “But the science hasn’t been done on the new nutraceutical products, and the F.D.A.’s current labeling standards are inadequate.”

The agency does not have specific rules for the labeling of functional foods. “It all depends on what type of claim is being made,” said Michael Herndon, an agency spokesman. “An unqualified health claim like ‘calcium reduces your risk of osteoporosis,’ has to be proved in advance. A more general claim like ‘X keeps your heart healthy’ has to be provable by the manufacturer, but we would not require proof in advance.” As with conventional foods, functional foods must clearly state the presence of allergens, like milk or fish, in the ingredients list.

The Food and Drug Administration does not conduct nutritional research. Several other federal agencies do so, but functional foods are not evaluated by any specific office. “Nutraceutical products have characteristics of both food and drugs,” said David A. Kessler, a former commissioner of the F.D.A. “It’s easy for them to slip through the cracks, and the industry is always ahead of the agency.”

“Eating the right nutrients is a complicated question, one that nutritionists say could most easily be solved by eating a wide range of basic foods.

Dr. Lichtenstein of Tufts says that the recent setbacks and surprises in nutrition research have made her rethink the whole model of adding nutrients to the diet, despite the effectiveness of vitamin fortification.”

“Maybe the true benefit of eating a lot of fish is that you are actually eating less of something else, like steak,” she said. “Maybe a subtraction model is the key. We have a long way to go to find out.”

Truth in advertising is the important issue here. Claims about the health benefits need to be back up by hard science. Studies conducted in a scientifically acceptable manner. The whole industry of vitiman supplements and homeopathic medicine is not regulated as far as I know.

Do you take vitamin supplements? I use to when I worked. I did some research and felt all I was doing was making expensive urine.

When you choose between to food products will a label that claims health benefits get you to buy that product?

Should vitamin supplements and homeopathic medicines be regulated like pharmaceutical drugs are?