- With Mayo Clinic nutritionist
Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.read biographyclose window
Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.
Jennifer Nelson is your link to a better diet. As specialty editor for food and nutrition, she plays a vital role in bringing you healthy recipes and meal planning.
"Nutrition is one way people have direct control over the quality of their lives," she says. "I hope to translate the science of nutrition into ways that people can select and prepare great-tasting foods that help maintain health and treat disease."
Nelson, a St. Paul, Minn., native, is a registered dietitian and has been with Mayo Clinic since 1978. She is director of clinical dietetics and an associate professor of nutrition at College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic.
She leads clinical nutrition efforts for a staff of more than 70 clinical dietitians and nine dietetic technicians and oversees staffing, strategic and financial planning, and quality improvement. Nelson was co-editor of the James Beard Foundation Award-winning "The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook" and the New York Times best-seller "The Mayo Clinic Diet."
She's been a contributing author to and reviewer of many other Mayo Clinic books and publications, including "The Mayo Clinic Family Health Book," "The Mayo Clinic/Williams Sonoma Cookbook" and the "Mayo Clinic Health Letter." She contributes to the strategic direction of nutrition, healthy eating and healthy recipes content, including creating recipes and menus, preparing and reviewing nutrition content, contributing to the Nutrition-wise blog, and answering nutrition questions.
Nutrition basics (31)
- Phenylalanine in diet soda: Is it harmful?
- Water softeners: How much sodium do they add?
- Diet soda: Is it bad for you?
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Healthy diets (11)
- Canola oil: Does it contain toxins?
- Butter vs. margarine: Which is better for my heart?
- Detox diets: Do they work?
- see all in Healthy diets
Healthy cooking (7)
- When the heat is on, which oil should you use?
- Moldy cheese: Is it OK to eat?
- Food poisoning: How long can you safely keep leftovers?
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Healthy menus and shopping strategies (8)
- White whole-wheat bread: Is it nutritious?
- Sodium nitrate in meat: Heart disease risk factor?
- Brominated vegetable oil: Why is BVO in my drink?
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Nutritional supplements (18)
- What is wheatgrass — And why is it in my drink?
- Prenatal vitamins: OK for women who aren't pregnant?
- Too much vitamin C: Harmful?
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What are functional foods?
I've heard the term "functional foods," but I don't know what it means. Can you explain?
from Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.
Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Oatmeal is a familiar example of a functional food because it naturally contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. Some foods are modified to have health benefits. An example is orange juice that's been fortified with calcium for bone health.
Of course, all foods are functional because they provide varying amounts of nutrients and energy to sustain growth or support vital processes. However, functional foods are generally considered to offer additional benefits that may reduce the risk of disease or promote optimal health.
Currently no legal definition exists for functional foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates claims that manufacturers make about functional foods' nutrient content and effects on disease, health or body function. The FDA regulates these types of foods according to whether a food is considered to be a conventional food, a food additive, a dietary supplement, a medical food or a food for special dietary use.
If you want to try functional foods, choose wisely. And keep in mind that while functional foods may help promote wellness, they can't make up for poor eating habits. Your best bet is still to eat a balanced and varied diet.Next question
Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Is it harmful?
- Functional foods. Position statement of the American Dietetic Association. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109:735.
- Duyff RL. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 4th ed. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons; 2012:198.
- Labeling and nutrition. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/default.htm. Accessed March 22, 2012.
- Nelson JK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 3, 2012.