CHICAGO — The American Dietetic Association this week released an updated position on functional foods that says fortified, enriched or enhanced foods may benefit a person’s health when consumed as part of a varied diet. In addition, the A.D.A. encouraged further research and urged continued efforts to educate the public on such foods.

According to the A.D.A.’s position, which was published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, "All foods are functional at some physiological level, but it is the position of the American Dietetic Association that functional foods that include whole foods and fortified, enriched or enhanced foods have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis, at effective levels. A.D.A. supports research to further define the health benefits and risks of individual functional foods and their physiologically active components. Health claims on food products, including functional foods, should be based on the significant scientific agreement standard of evidence and A.D.A. supports label claims based on such strong scientific substantiation."

The A.D.A.’s position statement and accompanying paper were written by Clare M. Hasler, Ph.D., M.B.A., executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California — Davis; and Amy C. Brown, Ph.D., R.D., Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.

In addition to stating the A.D.A.’s position on functional foods, the paper includes definitions of the term as used in different countries and notes "functional foods" is not a legal term but a marketing term. For its part, the A.D.A. defines functional foods as those that "move beyond necessity to provide additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote optimal health. Functional foods include conventional foods, modified foods (fortified, enriched or enhanced), medical foods and foods for special dietary uses."

Examples of conventional food with functional properties include broccoli, nuts and tomatoes. Modified foods include calcium-enhanced orange juice, folate-enriched bread and foods formulated with bioactive ingredients such as fish oils, plant sterol esters or lutein. Medical foods include PKU formulas free of phenylalanine. Foods for special dietary uses include gluten-free and lactose-free foods.

"The study of how diet impacts disease prevention and health promotion is more important than ever," the A.D.A. noted. "Consumer interest in the health benefits of foods and food components is at an all-time high and will continue to grow. Food and nutrition professionals are uniquely qualified to interpret scientific findings on functional foods and translate such findings into practical dietary applications for consumers, other health professionals, policy makers and the media. Food and nutrition professionals must continue to be leaders in this exciting and ever-evolving area of food and nutrition."