Functional foods are enriched with nutrients that may not be inherent to a given food. Familiar examples include orange juice fortified with calcium or milk fortified with vitamins A and D. As sales of these foods have soared in recent years, more functional foods have reached the market, such as eggs and pastas with omega-3 fatty acids, sterol-fortified chocolates, and high-fiber, high-protein flours.
Why it's here to stay: These foods help many people fill nutritional gaps. "For example, if you're lactose intolerant, you might find it difficult to meet your calcium quota," Stokes says. "Calcium-fortified juice eliminates that problem, especially if a glass is already part of your daily diet." Likewise, if you dislike seafood, you can obtain extra omega-3s from eggs or pasta.
What it means for you: Functional foods are one helpful element in maintaining a balanced diet, not a substitute for it. "Calcium-fortified orange juice won't supply other nutrients that a dairy source would provide, like protein," Estrow says. "That's why it's best to rely on whole foods, which provide multiple nutrients that act synergistically." In the end, it's fine to reap added nutrients from a functional food, but remember to fulfill the majority of your needs with naturally rich sources.