Health Food

Health-FoodHealth food is a term used to describe a variety of foods and products that some people believe will improve or preserve their health. Many supermarkets have a health food section, and some stores specialize entirely in such products. Popular health foods include bran, tofu (soybean curd), yogurt, and foods high in specific nutrients thought to have particular health benefits.

Medical and nutritional research have shown that numerous foods promote well-being. However, promises about health foods can be exaggerated or even false, such as claims to prevent aging or cure disease. The governments of many countries regulate the use of such words as organic, natural, and healthy on food labels and in advertisements to reduce deceptive claims.

Types of health foods. Some consumers who have concerns about the safety of additives (chemicals added to foods), pesticides, and highly processed food often select organic or natural foods. Farmers grow organic foods without using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Natural foods undergo little or no processing (chemical alteration or treatment), so they keep their natural nutritious qualities. They generally lack such additives as artificial colors and preservatives, which prevent spoilage.

Naturally occurring or specially created foods that have been scientifically shown to benefit health are sometimes called functional foods. Designer foods are functional foods developed through crossbreeding or genetic engineering. For example, scientists have “designed” a type of rice rich in beta-carotene, a healthful nutrient. Packaged products to which the manufacturer has added nutrients are also called designer foods.

Retailers often sell dietary supplements, such as vitamins and minerals, as a health food. Vitamins may be made from natural sources or artificially produced. Both types are chemically identical and equally effective. But natural supplements, like health foods, often cost more.

History. People have long recognized the relationship between a balanced diet and good health. In the early 1800’s, the American dietary reformer Sylvester Graham lectured on the benefits of eating whole grain flours. The American cereal manufacturers John H. Kellogg, his brother Will Kellogg, and Charles W. Post promoted Graham’s ideas. They introduced ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, which they advertised as health food. In the 1970’s, whole grain foods gained in popularity after Denis P. Burkitt, a British physician, suggested that the relatively low occurrence of digestive problems among people in Africa may result from their high-fiber diet.