Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
May 10, 1999
Dietitians favourable towards new foods, survey shows
A new study by University of Guelph Applied Nutrition Prof. Judy Sheeshka and researcher Bonnie Lacroix found Canadian dietitians receptive to nutraceuticals and functional foods, but needing more information before they can whole-heartedly recommend them to consumers.
In the groundbreaking study, they surveyed 151 registered dietitians on their attitudes toward new foods and their role as intermediary between the food industry and the consumer. Eighty-one per cent felt that dietitians were the most appropriate professionals to recommend functional foods. Dietitians interviewed were favourable toward functional foods and nutraceuticals, but want to see sound, unbiased research and regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that health claims are accurate.
Functional foods include garlic, ginseng, soybeans and broccoli, reputed to have therapeutic effects. Nutraceuticals are naturally-occurring ingredients known to prevent or fight disease, such as Omega-3 fatty acids in some fish oils, which reduce triglycerides, a known risk factor in heart disease. They can be isolated from foods and taken in pill or powder form to prevent or fight disease.
A preliminary report was presented recently in Toronto to the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research, which funded the study. Sheeshka, herself a registered dietitian, said the results contradicted anecdotal evidence that dietitians would not support these new technologies, and believes the new findings reflect dietitians' education and the growing role they play within food companies. "These days more dietitians are in the food industry themselves, and feel that one of their duties is to keep health issues high on the agenda of their employers. Dietitians are a very cautious group when it comes to the safety of our food supply, and so I would have expected a lot of uncertainty over these two new food trends. But instead there is this optimism about the potential health benefits, as well as a curiosity about the science involved, which comes from the strong science-based training dietitians receive."
Prof. Julie Conquer, Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, is also director of U of G's Human Nutraceutical Research Unit (HNRU). Having read Sheeshka's report, she believes there is a role for HNRU to act as an outreach educational resource for dietitians. "The aim of HNRU is to provide the scientific evidence on the dosage and efficacy of nutraceuticals in humans. Once we establish the evidence, we could offer educational symposiums to practicing dietitians, so that they are properly equipped to give their clients sound information supported by quality research."
Dr. Arlene Yee is the manager of the Guelph Centre for Functional Foods (GCFF) at U of G's Laboratory Services. GCFF is researching the health benefits of garlic, ginseng, and soybeans, popular functional foods whose health benefits have never been properly tested before. "The scientific evidence we establish through collaborative clinical trials will support the work of dietitians across Canada in disseminating new scientific-based knowledge to consumers about the health benefits of functional foods."
Sheeshka noted that dietitians' understanding of the science of functional foods and nutraceuticals might make them more optimistic about their future use and popularity than consumers. However, dietitians registered unease about how some functional foods might be obtained. Forty-two percent of respondents said they would want to know if the functional food resulted from processing or genetic engineering before deciding whether or not to recommend it to their clients.
Prof. Sheeshka can be reached at 519-824-4120, Ext. 4479, or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more information, contact Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Guelph, 519-824-4120, Ext. 6982.