Academic journal article Generations

Hype and Hope about Foods and Supplements for Healthy Aging

Academic journal article Generations

Hype and Hope about Foods and Supplements for Healthy Aging

Article excerpt

Many nutrition-related products are extravagantly promoted and advertised. This hype can mislead consumers into hoping for enhanced longevity and quick fixes for their age-related conditions. Unfortunately, most of these excessive promotions waste consumers' time and money-and some of the products are outright dangerous. But along with the hype exists a growing body of scientific research that shows certain foods, dietary patterns, and supplements do offer health benefits. This article provides practical advice for healthy eating and choosing supplements wisely.

Among the recommendations are consuming a plant-based diet providing at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of whole grain foods daily. It is also important to consume adequate calcium, vitamin D, and crystalline vitamin B12 that come from carefully chosen conventional foods, fortified foods, and nutrient supplements.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the primary responsibility for regulating labels and health claims on foods and supplements (us FDA, 2004). By law, most manufactured foods and all dietary supplements must have Nutrient Facts Panels and Supplement Facts Panels on their respective packages, listing energy, protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral contents. The manufacturers of many foods and supplements also make health claims that fall into several regulatory categories.

Claims with broad research support are authorized health claims, as listed in Table 1. Consumers can have a high degree of confidence in these health claims and can use them for choosing foods that offer health benefits. However, eating foods with these FDA-approved health claims only lowers, but does not eliminate, the risk of developing or contracting specific conditions and diseases. Consumers still need to read labels carefully and consider their total dietary pattern when choosing foods with health claims. For example, manufacturers add plant stanols and sterols, which help decrease blood cholesterol, to some margarines high in fat. If consumers trying to lower their fat intake do not read the labels on these margarine containers carefully, they might fail to realize that eating this product would actually do them more harm than good.

FDA regulations allow dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs to make "structure/function claims" (US FDA, 2004). Examples of such claims can be seen in the following phrases: "fiber maintains bowel regularity," "antioxidants maintain cell integrity," "for the relief of occasional sleeplessness," and "helps restore mental alertness or wakefulness when experiencing fatigue or drowsiness." The label must include a disclaimer that FDA has not evaluated the claim and that the product is not intended to "diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease," because only a drug can legally make such a claim. The manufacturer, not FDA, is responsible for ensuring that these claims are truthful and not misleading.

Foods are more tightly regulated than supplements. Therefore, consumers generally can trust health claims on food labels but not necessarily those on labels for supplements.


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2000) emphasize maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity; eating a variety of grains, especially whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and calciumrich foods daily; consuming a diet generally low in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in total fat, added sugars, and salt; and for those who consume alcohol, drinking in moderation.

These guidelines are updated every five years. The new 2005 guidelines probably will be similar to the current guidelines, with continued focus on plant foods and moderate intakes of dietary fat (up to 35 percent of energy, which is 62 grams of fat in a 1,600 caloric diet). …

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