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Pronounced /ˌnjuːtrəˈs(j)uːtɪkl/Help with pronunciation

Yet another blend, this combines nutrition and pharmaceutical to describe foods containing supplements from natural sources that are thought to deliver a specific health benefit.

Other terms employed are functional food, pharmafood and FoSHU (“Food for Specified Health Use”). One nutraceutical that has been in the news is beta-carotene, used as a dietary supplement to stave off heart attacks, but whose efficacy has been challenged by recent studies.

The field is diffuse and difficult to define exactly, as the term includes many natural remedies known for centuries, such as valerian, ginseng, and herbal teas, as well as substances that have been extracted from natural products, such as Vitamin E, and natural biological flora, often called probiotics.

The difference now is that they are either produced in purified or concentrated form by bioengineering methods, or are enhanced through genetic methods, as in a range of vegetables now being put on the market which contain elevated levels of naturally-occurring substances believed to ward off cancer. Another characteristic, their proponents argue, is that such supplements have proven health value.

Nutraceuticals pose problems for regulatory authorities who are still working out whether they are primarily foodstuffs or whether they should be controlled by the much stricter guidelines applied to medicines.

Yakult is one of a new generation of “functional foods” or “nutraceuticals”, so called because they are said to be something of a cross between good old fashioned food and pharmaceuticals.

Guardian, Apr. 1996

Functional foods — also called nutraceuticals and pharmafoods — are medicines to tickle the taste buds.

The European, May 1996

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 10 May 1997; Last updated 21 Nov 1998