Next time you go grocery shopping, take a closer look at the beverages, yogurt and other packaged foods on display in the store you're visiting. You'll most likely find a number of products bearing a special logo and a carefully worded sentence touting their health benefits.

Known as tokuho, short for tokutei hoken-yo shokuhin (foods for specified health uses), these government-certified products come in a bewildering variety of forms: everything from tofu fortified with calcium to strengthen bones and freeze-dried miso soup with dextrin fiber to lower blood-sugar levels, to oolong tea containing polyphenols that are suppose to prevent the accumulation of body fat -- to name just a few.

The health ministry-affiliated Japan Health Food & Nutrition Food Association says that the tokuho system is "the first attempt in the world by a nation's health authorities to approve the display of information about the health effects of a food product on its label." Tokuho products account for a third of the nation's 1.9 trillion yen health-food market, logging sales of 629.9 billion yen in fiscal 2005, a fourfold increase since the association first compiled statistics eight years ago. The success of these products is due in part to consumers' increasing awareness of health issues in recent years, health ministry officials said, and also to deregulation of the screening process in 2003, which made it easier for companies to gain tokuho certification for variations on pre-existing tokuho foods, such as products using different flavorings or sold under different brand names.