By PT Staff, published on November 1, 1998 - last reviewed on May 31, 2006
Fast disappearing are the days when we ate simply for sustenance or
even pleasure. Nowadays, Americans are asking the food on their plates:
"What have you done for me lately?" If they're eating so-called
functional foods, the answers may range from boosting spirits to building
Foods as diverse as coffee, cereal, juice, rice and even chewing
gum are now bolstered with herbs, vitamins, minerals, protein and other
good-for-you supplements. And their popularity is booming. While sales of
conventional foods are growing by 1.5 percent annually, the category known as
nutraceuticals or "future foods" is expanding at the rate of 9.5 percent,
according to one estimate.
Theories abound as to why Americans have taken so enthusiastically
to these new foodstuffs. We are a nation of self-improvers. Among the
most addicted: baby boomers, who want to stay perpetually healthy and
happy. Americans have also cottoned to the idea of taking their health
into their own hands and are flocking to alternative natural remedies.
They've found that it's easier to crunch or sip your nutrients than
swallow them in a pill.
Critics say the craze for functional foods, like the overwhelming
popularity of psychopharmaceutical drugs such as Prozac, reflects
America's quick-fix culture. But at least one nutraceutical manufacturer
still believes in the talking cure. Every bag of the treat known as
Personality Puffs ("made with 17 flowery herbs to help your mood and
disposition") lists an 800-number where snackers can reach mental health professionals
around the clock.