Barbara Burke

Health Options


Wednesday, August 1, 2001

hard to define

OVER the past two decades, health-conscious people have learned a great deal of the medical terminology used in daily health reports on news programs and medical shows. As a result, basic medical knowledge has grown in sophistication.

The terminology of dietary supplements, however, tends to be less precise, making it harder to understand. Much of the confusion is caused by numerous definitions for the same term. A good example is the word "nutraceutical." Here is a selection of definitions:

1. ". . . any food or food ingredient that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease." -- Altruis Biomedical Network.

2. ". . . natural products that are used to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake of important nutrients" This includes "vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts, antioxidants, amino acids, and protein supplements." -- Elankovan and Hopper, 1998.

3. ". . . being between a nutrient and a pharmaceutical having the characteristics of both." -- Booth, 1977.

4. ". . . food, or parts of food, that provide medical or health benefits, including prevention and treatment of disease." -- Stephen DeFelice, Foundation for Innovation in Medicine.

Under the last definition, the National Nutraceutical Center includes functional and medicinal foods along with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and herbs cited in the other definitions. Functional foods include oats and bran that have been linked to the prevention of specific ailments such as heart disease. An example of a medicinal food would be an energy-type bar with added medications.

We are both lucky to have healthy parents who are now in their mid-to-late 80s. What special foods or nutraceuticals did they use to thrive? The obvious food items they eat daily are fruits and vegetables. Both are especially rich in essential vitamins and minerals, and contain natural chemical compounds called phytochemicals which are beneficial for health.

Among phytochemicals, the colorful carotenoids and flavorful flavonoids function as antioxidants, which are thought to decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer. Other phytochemicals are thought to facilitate removal of carcinogens from the body, decreasing risk of DNA damage and cancer.

It is unlikely you'd feel the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables immediately. In fact, most health benefits are related more to preventing disease than curing it.

You might notice that you are less constipated because fruits and vegetables contain dietary fiber. They also contain fewer calories than most processed foods. That is especially true for vegetables, which do not contain the sugars found in fruits. Therefore, vegetables are a great way to get nutrients and phytochemicals without many calories.

Although "Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily" may sound boring and not very modern, it is still a great way to get nutraceuticals in the diet.

Health Events

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses
indicated by an asterisk in this section.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionist in the
Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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