Meal replacements are one subcategory under the broader heading of functional foods. Also called nutraceuticals (a combination of the words "nutrition" and "pharmaceuticals"), functional foods are considered to be any food that possess beneficial health and wellness properties beyond the well proven nutritional benefits a person might find on the food label. The supposed benefits of functional foods go beyond the dietary needs listed on the USDA's food pyramid. The USDA defines functional foods as "any food, modified food or food ingredient that provides structural, functional or health benefits, thus promoting optimal health, longevity and quality of life." Foods might inherently possess these supposedly beneficial qualities, or they may be fortified and/or genetically modified.
The concept of functional foods first became popular in Japan in the 1980s. The Japanese government developed a regulatory agency to oversee the approval of functional foods in 1991. The name of this agency is called Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU).
Functional foods are increasingly popular in the United States. A significant number of popular, mainstream brand name products are available on the market. The Nutrition Action Healthletter notes that an increasing number of major brands are planning or developing labels that purport the benefits of eating their functional foods. Furthermore, functional foods are reported as one of the fastest growing segments of the food economy in United States. In the past decade, functional foods have become so popular that other governments, including Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom have devoted major health initiatives to investigating the usefulness and safety of functional foods.
Some foods are said to be inherently functional foods, such as green tea, which has antioxidants, and salmon, which contains omega 3 fatty acids.
Functional foods are also often created when foods are processed. Foods may be fortified to include more fiber or calcium, for example. Consumers are advised to choose foods that appear healthy according to the way they fit into their food pyramid, rather than on the claims of additional, and usually unproven, beneficial properties.
Nutrition bars contain herbs, supplements, vitamin, minerals and or/protein. There are many different forms including protein bars, meal replacement bars, energy bars and diets bars. Protein bars contain a high amount of protein, usually about 10-30g, and many also contain vitamins and/or minerals. Examples include: Balance Bars®, PR Ironman Bars® and Pure Protein Bars®. Meal replacement bars contain the necessary amount of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that are typically found in a healthy meal. Examples include: Slim Fast Meal Bars®, Nutribars® and Trim Advantage Meal Replacement Bars®. An energy bar is a dietary supplement for athletes who need to maintain a high caloric intake due to high physical activity.
There are also many varieties of diet bars. For instance, some are high in protein for individuals on the Atkins diet. Examples include: South Beach Diet Cereal Bars® and the Atkins Morning Start Breakfast Bars®.
In addition to nutrition bars, fermented foods are also included in the functional food category. A common example is yogurt, which often contains live bacterial cultures known as probiotics. These fermented foods are thought to promote a healthy environment in the body.
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