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Consumers devouring nutrient-spiked foods

August 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Americans are consistently paying a premium for foods marketed as healthy, fiber-rich or heart-friendly even though they may be just a bunch of empty calories and excess fat.A new report released Thursday by research firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that consumers are buying up billions of dollars worth of products seen as healthy alternatives to sugary sodas and fattening snacks.

Foods that used to not be considered good for overall health are now being spiked with nutrients to make them more attractive to consumers. Such products are known in the food industry as "functional foods" because they contain higher levels of essential nutrients that go beyond the initial purpose of aiding normal growth and development. These types of products are also referred to as "nutraceuticals."

So-called functional foods account for more than $27 billion in sales a year, according to the Pricewaterhouse report. That accounts for about 5 percent of the U.S. food market, and sales are projected to grow.

Also, according to the Pricewaterhouse report, soft drinks, including vitamin-fortified waters and sports beverages, now account for about a third of the nutraceutical market.

Nutritionists caution that too much of the essential vitamins A, C, E and folic acid can be risky for some people. There is the risk of overconsumption because people think that since these foods are healthy, they can eat a lot more of them, and often.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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