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Wellness Foods Cure-all or Con? By Julia Shaw, Health Editor.

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1 Wellness Foods Cure-all or Con? By Julia Shaw, Health Editor

2 Who am I? Hi, my name is Julia Shaw and Ive been a consumer journalist specialising in health and lifestyle for over 25 years. Ive been involved in mainstream womens consumer titles for most of my working life. I was Assistant Editor of WOMAN magazine for over a decade in charge of health, nutrition, diet and cookery. I also recently helped launch IPCs website, It was based on a womens weekly magazine format with health, food, diet and nutrition at its So Ive seen this huge sea-change in consumer awareness around the issues of health and food over the last decade thats impacted so much on what we now eat.

3 The Future IS health Nutraceuticals, functional, wellbeing or wellness foods, call them what you like, theyre here to stay with the prediction that by 2010 health conscious Brits will be spending over £2bn a year on functional foods. So wellness foods are big business now with a huge demand from consumers for foods that will boost their health, whether theyre in natural form or supplemented at the manufacturing process. And i f the health benefits they want can be delivered with minimal change to their existing diet, so much the better. So breads that boost brain function, drinks that improve gut health and fortified cereals have been a massive success.

4 5 A Day success The Governments 5 a Day campaign has had a big impact on public awareness and made people think much more about what theyre putting in their mouths on a daily basis. Of course, Jamie Oliver has helped a bit too. OK, so research shows that most of us arent getting anything near our 5 a Day with only 12% of Brits managing it - mainly middle class families. The average consumption is more like 2.5 portions a day. But at least were more conscious that we should eat more fruit and veg, and feel that creeping guilt when we barely manage one! Health was always one of the best-read sections of WOMAN magazine. Unfortunately the current fixation with celebrity gossip has taken over just about every magazine now, but they still want to read about health, particularly if its celebrity related. The average British mum is now something of a health guru herself with information shes picked up via her favourite magazine or website and passed onto her mates.

5 Confused? But theres a lot of confusion too. Keeping up with the latest superfoods is difficult enough for the media. It can be a minefield for consumers trying to pick their way through the superfoods maze to work out which ones really work and whats actually in them? And with so many health food scares too, such as the recent discovery that probiotics can be dangerous to some seriously ill people, or that some add-ons arent as effective as theyve been cracked up to be, consumers are understandably wary.

6 Anyone for cherry juice? We all felt so virtuous sipping our acai and goji berry juices, didnt we? Fruits that no-one had ever heard of until a couple of years ago. Forget it, we were well off track. Now health buffs are fighting to get their hands on the humble cherry. But, not just any old cherry, this super cherry is the American Montmorency tart cherry. Scientists say that this cherry juice has got more cancer preventing antioxidants than you can shake a stick at. A glass a day gives the same health benefits as eating 23 portions of fruit and veg. But didnt they say that about the aronia berry too, and about acai and goji berries? Excuse me for being a tad cynical, but I am a journalist.

7 Still confused? Even if this latest, rather elusive cherry juice is genuinely the nirvana of health drinks, its unlikely that the average health- conscious shopper will be able to afford it. And unlikely it will really be any more beneficial to them than easily obtainable fresh blackberries or hugely antioxidant-rich prunes, a genuine superfood if ever there was one. And thats the problem with so many functional foods. They invariably work out so much more expensive than an equivalent product that is probably just as healthy.

8 Those pesky journalists … or why media opinion matters But, as you all know, there are genuine wellness foods that have been fantastic additions to our supermarket shelves, and then there are the other not so good for you wellness foods. I think its very difficult for the public to decipher the good from the bad and the downright ugly - acrylamides and all. And thats where those pesky journalists come in. Its a journalists job to tell it like it is, so if theres any doubt that a new launch isnt everything its cracked up to be, they will start sniffing around. Thankfully food manufacturers have moved on loads since the press attacked Kraft Dairylea Light Cheese Slices describing them as saltier than the Atlantic and then went on to pick over the Dairylea Lunchables range too.

9 Those pesky journalists Kraft have cleaned up their act by cutting the salt and saturated fat content from the Dairylea ranges, as well as banishing artificial colours and flavours and introducing wholegrain crackers and rolls. That can only be good. And its great to see so many other manufacturers cutting down on salt, sugars and fats in their ranges to give real health benefits. The press hounding of Sunny Delight was fairly forceful too. It was the third best selling soft drink in the UK after its launch in 1998 when it was marketed as a healthy juice. But questions started to be raised about its health benefits as it contained only 2% juice and a Food Commission investigation followed. By 2001 its sales had halved and the company were forced to re-brand into a healthier version, Sunny D in 2003.

10 Those pesky journalists I am one of those pesky journalists that have run weekly analysis tests of popular food products and new launches. Eg: The latest super water with added fibre. But hang on - youd have to drink a gallon to get the same amount of fibre as a bowl of Weetabix. Another kids fortified cereal, but what about all that sugar content? Omega 3 breads and milk, great idea, but is there enough in there to really benefit our health? The readers crave honest opinion when it comes to foods, particularly those aimed at their kids. Health guru, Michael van Straten, who wrote a Natural Health column for me says he has grave reservations about add-ons as they dont change peoples lifestyles. And hes right. They dont. Yes, a spread can help reduce cholesterol, but if you make no other changes to your lifestyle its not going to be a cure-all, is it? And if claims are made that cant be substantiated it can only be bad for the manufacturer and consumer alike.

11 Power to the people Things have changed hugely since Sunny Delight and Dairylea had their problems. Yes, the press are still very influential in shaping how new products are received, but people power is taking over. Consumers are the new journalists. No website or magazine is complete now unless it has real people commenting. Journalists are reacting a lot more to consumer opinion and working with it. You just have to look at influential sites like Mumsnet to see people power in action with mums exchanging advice on products theyve tried and liked. Their opinion counts. Its tried and trusted and can probably make or break a product. Chat rooms are increasingly important forums too, so instead of just journalists analysing, praising or criticising your products youve now got a whole raft of quite pushy, rather chatty and often very knowledgeable punters joining in too.

12 Keep it airtight The press dont have to be your enemy though. We can be your friends – honest! Without sounding like a politician, transparency is the best policy to get the most out of your press launches. If the media believe you, the consumers probably will too. If your product does exactly what it says on the tin, theres no room for journalists to go sniffing. If youre not sure the product message is 100% airtight, dont say it. Certainly dont shout it from the rooftops with an ad campaign thrown in for good measure. Some add-on products have come unstuck recently with ASA investigations on whether their ad claims stand up. With so much interest now from the media and consumers on whats in a product from salt content, to vitamin quota and saturated fats, theres nowhere to hide. Best to just come clean and let people make up their own minds.

13 The future is the past The future of wellbeing foods is surely getting back to basics. In these hard times people wont be able to afford fancy stuff, but programmes like Jamie Olivers Ministry of Food have opened peoples minds to good, basic home-cooked meals replacing takeaway cheesy chips and doner kebabs. We need to get back to that wartime mentality where frugal ingredients were turned into healthy meals using everyday, home-grown ingredients that dont cost the earth. Affordable to everyone, not just the middle classes. True wellbeing foods. Michael van Straten suggests the time is right for the launch of a value wellbeing range of ready meals. Using the cheapest ingredients -eg.shin of beef with parsnips or turnips - to create a tasty, healthy stew. Of course they would have to have no additives, be low in fat and salt and retail at less than a pound. Surely that would fly out of the chill cabinets? Food just like Grandma cooked. Now, theres a challenge!

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