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Fiddling With Food

 Adding vitamins and minerals to food isn't a new idea. But there are a growing number of so-called functional foods available that contain extra ingredients designed to make you healthier.

Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel and CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay sat down together with some examples of functional food to talk it over.

"I think we need to define 'functional food.' It is a broad category," said Dr. Senay. "What it means, or what it has come to mean, is: foods that have an enhanced health benefit."

Gumbel asked if these are real enhancements, or if this a marketing strategy?

Replied Dr. Senay, "In some cases, they are real enhanced benefits. But I also think there's a bit of a marketing deal, too."

She also warned that eating functional foods should not be thought of as eating a low-fat diet. "This is a vitamin-enhanced food or foods that contain another compound that will have some sort of - I want to say, medicinal value."

Asked Gumbel, "Can I get the same value if I just eat healthy and eat a balanced diet?" And Dr. Senay replied, "I think it depends on who you are and how you eat."

Here are a few of the functional foods discussed by Gumbel and Dr. Senay:

  • Spreads and salad dressing: These products contain a plant extract that has been proven to lower your cholesterol levels if eaten regularly over time. That is, you would have to eat about four tablespoons of the enhanced salad dressing every day, or one tablespoon of the spread.

    "The spreads taste like butter," noted Dr. Senay. "I bought them for my husband."

  • Eggs: Enhanced eggs contain DHA, a fatty acid found in fish oil that has been shown to have health benefits for the heart. (Eskimos have fewer heart problems because their diet is rich in fish.)

    Gumbel wanted to know how they get the DHA in the eggs. "What did they do? Tamper with the chickens?" he asked Dr. Senay, who explained that the fish contain DHA because they get it from the algae they eat. "Researchers fed the algae to chickens, and the DHA ended up in the egg."

  • Mineral water: Bottled water is available that has been enhanced with many different kinds of vitamins. But Dr. Senay stressed that it is will important to eat a well-balanced diet.

    "And when it comes to products that claim to contain the cancer-fighting ingredients that fresh foods are proven to have, there is a lot of controversy about their effectiveness," she added.

  • Snacks for children: Vitamins have been added to flavored milk drinks and crackers for young children and toddlers.

    "Kids are notoriously hard to get to eat right," noted Dr. Senay.

    Gumbel, sampling an enhanced cracker, declared the snack "a little dry for me."

But whether the products are dry or moist, you can expect to pay a little more for functional foods.

As Dr. Senay warned, "Generally speaking, they are all more expensive than their reular counterparts."
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