Nutraceutical foods are edible food products that have medicinal properties previously only found in pharmaceutical non-food products. Cholesterol-lowering margarine is an example of a nutraceutical food. Japan has had nutraceutical foods for many years now, while these foods are slower to develop in Europe and North America.
Nutraceutical foods need to have shown to protect the body from disease in some way and this can take extensive product testing. The market demand for nutraceutical foods is high as governments look to lower healthcare costs and consumers move away from buying traditional processed foods because of all the information that proves them as nutritionally lacking. For instance, many traditional processed foods are thought to be cholesterol-raising if they contain trans fats.
Nutraceutical food manufacturers look for products to help prevent serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. They look to enhance the often high fat, high sugar, high sodium traditional processed foods with ingredients that have proven health benefits. For example, vitamin supplements in moderation have been shown to be beneficial to the body and were previously only available in vitamin tablet form. Today, some nutraceutical foods processors are developing candy that has vitamins added.
Yet many health experts caution that nutraceutical foods shouldn't replace natural foods. Candy with vitamins added, is after all still candy. These experts note that consumers should concentrate on fiber rich and nutrient rich natural foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Calcium-fortified orange juice is one the most popular nutraceutical foods today. While it has health benefits, many dietitians would still advise eating oranges more often than drinking orange juice because of their fiber content and more controlled serving size.
Nutraceutical foods in combination with a healthy diet rich in natural foods may be beneficial for the body. Plus, nutraceutical foods provide a health-oriented alternative to traditional processed foods. For example, lutein is found naturally in many green vegetables and is thought to decrease the risk of macular degeneration. If a person doesn't eat as many green vegetables as he or she should, but does eat a processed food containing lutein, then at least he or she will be consuming some lutein.