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Disarming The "Magic Bullet"

Disarming The "Magic Bullet"More and more food companies are enhancing their products with "healthy" additives, but Tufts experts urge that consumers use caution.

Boston [06.18.01] As health-conscious foods continue to grow in popularity, many companies are looking for new ways to capitalize on the lucrative trend. TIME Magazine reports an increase in a whole host of products that claim to provide specific nutritional benefits in just the last year -- from breakfast cereals to herbal teas.

But two Tufts experts caution consumers that the "cure-all" claims may send the wrong message, leaving consumers in worse shape as a result.

This week, in an article on nutrition products specifically for women, TIME reported that several major food companies -- including General Mills and Quaker -- are introducing breakfast cereals tailored for women.

"What the new fem foods have in common is that they all trumpet nutrients that benefit women in particular," the magazine noted, citing the inclusion of everything from calcium and iron to soy.

But are they necessary for a woman's diet?

"Somehow as a gender we've done fine for thousands of years without our own breakfast cereal," Tufts' Alice Lichtenstein told TIME.

The Tufts nutrition professor said the nutritionally-tailored products can send the wrong message to consumers. While they may be packed with important components, the products won't balance out other unhealthy eating habits.

"We don't want women to think one cereal or one bar is the magic bullet for women's health," Lichtenstein told TIME.

The best approach, Lichtenstein advised, may be sticking to a balanced diet instead of looking for an enhanced food or "magic bullet" for good nutrition.

"Eating healthy, for women and men, is a lifelong commitment," she told TIME.

Other nutritionally-enhanced products may actually be dangerous.

Herbal drinks -- which recorded a $680 million jump in sales in just the last four years -- have found success marketing the nutritional power of their herbal additives to consumers, reported a TIME columnist last week.

But leading nutritional experts and the FDA are taking a closer look.

According to TIME, "Dr. Robert Russell of the schools of medicine and nutrition at Tufts University in Boston advises patients who want to try botanical medicines to stick with the pill forms."

The Tufts doctor says more research is necessary to determine if herbal additives in food pose any risks.

"I think some of these herbals are effective," he told the news magazine. "But I don't think we know enough about their long-term safety to put them in the food supply."

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