Print this article
P. 20-25 /

Complex foods versus functional foods, nutraceuticals and dietary supplements:
differential health impact (Part 1)


INRA, UMR 1019, UNH, CRNH Auvergne, F-63000 CLERMONT-FERRAND & Clermont Université, Université d’Auvergne, Unité de Nutrition Humaine, BP 10448, F-63000 CLERMONT-FERRAND, France


What differentiates natural complex foods from nutraceuticals and dietary supplements is food structure, this latter involving nutrient interaction and synergism, and a complex mixture at nutritional doses. Scientific evidence showed that functional foods, nutraceuticals and dietary supplements (FND) have failed stopping chronic diseases epidemics: most conclusions of recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews are lack of significant health effect and needs for further studies. Why such disappointing results? Probably because FND results from a curative and reductionist nutritional approach while complex foods participates in a preventive and holistic approach. Indeed, reductionism has led to fractionate foods, isolating compounds from them for use at supra-nutritional doses in FND. Holism considers foods as complex systems in which the whole is more than sum of the parts leading to more sustainable health effects, and technological treatments more respectful of food structure.


Except water, all foods are a mix of several macro-, micro- and/or phyto-nutrients and are therefore complex systems. Thus, milk is a complex food and complex foods are not only solid foods. Generally, two categories of complex foods are distinguished: natural and processed. Among processed foods, those processed directly from the natural matrix (e.g., cooked meat), and re-combined foods from isolated ingredients issued from fractionation and refining processes (e.g., white bread) are distinguished. Processed food matrices may be classified as: 1) Colloidal dispersions like emulsions (butter, mayonnaise) and foams (chocolate mousse); 2) amorphous or crystalline phases (most food solids, e.g., starch); and 3) gel networks (e.g., some dai