Junk food is getting an increasingly bad press and the food industry seems to be changing tack.

They are investing vast sums into "functional" foods that are supposed to improve our health.

If you visit a supermarket these days, you'll need to drag your medical encyclopedia along with you or preferably, of course, your personal nutritionist.

Is this the right time to mention I am open for guided shopping tours?

Naturally, the odd nutritional lecture will be thrown in, probably in the fizzy drinks aisle and most definitely in the biscuit department.

Come along with family and friends for a riveting, educational day out at your local supermarket - phone the number below for price and departure plan.

Let's see what we can put into our shopping baskets to fulfil the promise of eternal youth and exceptional health.

Certain types of yoghurts contain added "live" culture to improve the bacterial flora in our guts and, boy, do we need it since the advent of antibiotics, drugs and pesticides.

Stomach bugs, thrush and IBS are becoming increasingly common. The question is, how many microorganisms does an individual require and are any of the right kind left in the pot by the time they've been mixed with fruit puree and stored for lengthy periods of time?

Another functional food on the market promises to block cholesterol absorption.

Cholesterol levels are affected by several factors, such as how much is manufactured by the body, how much is absorbed and how much is excreted.

Scientists recently discovered that plant chemicals such as sterols inhibit cholesterol absorption, thereby lowering blood levels. Suddenly, a new range of low-fat products was born before you could say: "Bob, your uncle's cholesterol has finally come down."

This, in itself, can only be a good thing but for those already on cholesterol restricted diets, buying a wonder margarine won't make much difference.

Especially if Uncle Bob refuses to give up sugary and refined foods which drive his cholesterol back up again.

The wonder margarine also contains plenty of salt so those with high blood pressure might like to think twice before buying it.

Next on the conveyer belt is a multigrain bread rich in plant oestrogens, designed to tackle menopausal symptoms.

It includes soya flour and linseeds and is believed to reduce hot flushes if enough slices are eaten.

All well and good but wheat products irritate the gut and are highly allergenic.

Why not just eat the linseeds?

Don't get me wrong.

much prefer functional foods to junk foods and applaud the food industry for finally recognising the importance of nutrition to health.

But man is rarely more clever than nature and we would be much better off relearning how to eat the real thing than using manufactured and, therefore, second-rate alternatives.

Unadulterated wholefoods provide us with a full spectrum healing kit designed to protect us and prevent disease. However, there not much profit in that.

Welcome to the brave new world of functional foods.

Martina is a qualified
nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina_watts @compuserve.com