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'Food can act as medicine' -- and now, Americans know it

USA TODAY

08-04-11

Say you eat yogurt for your health, and most Americans will know what you mean: You are targeting that food's bone-building calcium and gut-friendly probiotics.

In fact, Americans are much more aware of the health benefits of specific "functional" foods than they were a decade ago, a survey reports today.

When the International Food Information Council began its survey in 1998, "only about three-fourths of Americans could name a food and its related health benefits," says the group's Elizabeth Rahavi. "Now, almost nine out of 10 can. A lot has to do with scientific studies coming out, talking about the benefits of a food and its relationship to good health."

The IFIC defines functional foods as "foods or food components that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition."

"People are 1,000% more conscious of the fact that food can act as medicine and help prevent lots of diseases," says Jean Carper, author of several best-selling books about functional food.

With such broad awareness, are people actually eating health foods? "Only about a third of Americans say they're making dietary changes because of a health condition," Rahavi says. More are "making dietary changes because they want to improve their overall well-being, so they have energy to go about their day."

Cost, taste and availability were the key reasons given for not eating health foods.

"Expense comes out on top," Rahavi says. "People have this perception that functional foods are more expensive, but in reality, when you look at something like a whole-grain cereal or a yogurt, it's not."

Top 5 functional foods

1. Salmon: Heart, memory, brain

2. Blueberries: Anti-aging

3. Apples: Lung function (be sure to eat the apple skin)

4. Nuts: Antioxidants, good fat

5. Legumes: Blood sugar, heart

(c) Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <http://www.gannett.com>

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