`Intelligent food' about to hit the menu

US company launching products that target specific health complaints. Louise Jury reports
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The Independent Online
Sensible eating can alleviate common complaints which often need a visit to the doctor and it may soon be possible to buy specially prepared food which "cure" high blood pressure

A guide published today by the Women's Nutritional Advisory Service (WNAS) claims its programme of healthy eating could alleviate a wide range of problems, while "intelligent food" is the alternative solution from Campbell Soup in America. A range of frozen meals delivered to customers' homes and designed to fulfil all the major health guidelines on fat, fibre and nutrient levels are the latest products in what have become known as "neutraceuticals". They are marketed in the US as as a food "cure" for conditions such as high blood pressure where diet is a factor.

And the range is likely to be introduced in Britain, although the claims will have to be modified under the UK's strict medical licensing laws. In the meantime, the WNAS more modestly aims to tackle 120 common conditions, including migraines, period pains and fatigue, through its own food programme, while blaming GPs for providing women with inadequate dietary information.

A spokeswoman said nine in 10 family doctors had little nutritional knowledge because fewer than four hours of lectures were devoted to diet during training. They were woefully ignorant about the value of healthy eating.

"It is therefore not surprising that women are often fobbed off with inadequate treatment, or worse still, labelled as psychiatrically unwell," she said. "The result is that for many women, the appalling quality of their health severely disrupts their enjoyment of life, and indeed their ability to cope with every day commitments."

Doctors defended themselves against the claim yesterday. Dr Brian Goss, a member of the British Medical Association's GPs' committee, said GPs had to cover a huge amount during training, but dietary advice was always available to the GP and to the patient if necessary from qualified dieticians. He added: "There's not much that is solely dietary. There may be a whole host of other facts. It depends on the condition."

Dr Marian Latchman, a family doctor in Suffolk with four children, said it was unfair to blame GPs. "One of the things that has made me most despondent in more than 15 years as a GP has been that however you dress up advice to alter diet and move away from junk, it's usually totally ineffectual. When you give out dietary advice, eyes go into glaze mode."

She said she could not bear to go to the supermarket between October and January because of the piles of chocolate and cakes which she knew her patients were buying and consuming.

"Whatever I do in my own little way, I cannot match what is going on in the supermarket. I cannot change dietary patterns at all and it is a sad day for GPs when yet another group of people turn and round and knock us." Women were no worse than men, and there was some evidence that they were better, but many used food as a crutch, she said.

Lucy Daniels, a state registered dietician, said it was true that sometimes a nutritional answer to a medical problem was not in the forefront of GPs' minds. "But I would be the first to say that nutrition can't solve everything. People shouldn't be afraid to see their doctor."

Neutraceuticals, where specific ingredients are added to foods to produce specific physiological benefits, aim at enabling people to eat themselves well. The supermarket chain Tesco was among those who two years ago began to introduce products such as margarine with fish oil that reduces blood fat levels.

Although dieticians argue a balanced diet should provide all the nutrients required, many are impressed by some of the results of the neutraceuticals.

But Mrs Daniels said that sometimes they were more expensive than normally available foodstuffs and contained more additives.