What are Functional Foods?
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
Health magazines, diet chart, diet plans are all full of functional foods. It is a term which is generally used when we talk about a balanced diet. But before consuming it, it becomes all the more important to understand as to what it is exactly, its various forms and its implications.
What is functional food?
In common parlance, all the foods are considered as functional foods as they exhibit one or more essential functions related to health benefits, be it providing proteins for muscle repairing, carbohydrates for boosting energy levels, vitamins and minerals, etc.
But, the term is specially designed for those foods that besides providing nutrition perform some other essential health functions.
Functional foods are whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence. (Source: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
Functional foods are foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. These substances provide essential nutrients often beyond quantities necessary for normal maintenance, growth, and development, and/or other biologically active components that impart health benefits or desirable physiological effects. (Source: The Institute of Food Technologists)
Origin of functional foods
The term functional food owes its origin to the 1980s when a government approval process was held in Japan popularly called as Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU). The term was used to refer to those foods that performed dual roles i.e. nutrition plus specific bodily functions.
Health benefits attached to functional foods
The health benefits associated with functional foods are many. These benefits owe their origin to the presence of some vital nutrients. These are:
- Phytochemicals- Phytochemicals are the plant chemicals which are very active in enhancing the health of an individual.
- Plant Stanols and Sterols- These are known to block cholesterol level in the digestive system so as to reduce the flow of cholesterol into the bloodstreams and thus prevent the clogging of arteries.
- Antioxidants– The presence of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, etc. work as good antioxidants. They are known to finish off the irritating harmful particles present in the blood which are a root cause of a number of health issues.
- Fiber- Eating fiber brings with it a number of health benefits ranging from lowering cholesterol level to heart diseases, type 2 diabetes to obesity.
- Prebiotics– Prebiotics increase the growth of those bacteria in large intestines which are advantageous to intestinal health and disrupt the growth of those bacteria which are injurious to intestinal
- Omega- 3s- Omega 3s are known to lower triglycerides (unhealthy blood fat), protect the body from risks of heart attack or strokes.
- Probiotics- These are the live microorganisms which when consumed in proper amount confer numerous health benefits.
Various Functional Foods-
- Psyllium- Psyllium contains soluble fiber in them which helps reduce cholesterol level in the body.
- Flaxseeds- Flaxseeds consists of a number of nutrients i.e. omega-3 fatty acids, mammalian lignin precursors, etc. that not only reduce the risk of cancer in the human body but also lower total and LDL
- Soy- Soy comprises a protein which is beneficial to the human body in many ways, to say, decreasing level of cholesterol to enhancing bone
- Nuts- Nuts contain a number of nutrients which exhibit a variety of functions. These functions include lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, controlling blood sugar level, etc.
- Cruciferous vegetables– Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates which provide them with the ability to reduce cancer in individuals.
- Cranberry juice- These juices are known to contain proanthocyanidins which help in reducing infections of the urinary tract.
- Red wine- The presence of high phenolic content in red wine makes them suitable for fighting various cardiovascular
- Grape juice– Same as the red wine, grape juice protects the body against various cardiovascular diseases.
- Green tea- Green tea is rich in polyphenols like catechins. This helps in obvious risks of certain types of cancer.
- Garlic- Garlic contains organosulfur compounds which reduce the high level of cholesterol in the body.
- Carrot- the presence of beta-carotene in carrots helps in strengthening eyesight, enhancing growth and improving immune functions.
- Beans– beans contain fiber, protein, potassium, etc. which are beneficial for the well being of an individual.
- Spinach– Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain lutein in them, which reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration in the body.
- Margarine– Margarine contain added plant sterols and stanols esters which decreases the level of cholesterol in the body. Not simply this, it also reduces the risk of various heart diseases.
- Tomato- Tomato comprises of lycopene that restricts the development of prostate cancer in an individual.
- Fermented foods- Fermented foods like unpasteurized pickled vegetables contain probiotics in them. These probiotics improve digestion and fight constipation, diarrhea. Apart from this, they also possess some immune functions.
- Fatty fish- They are the rich source of fatty acids which exhibit a number of health functions like reducing the risk of strokes, heart diseases, non-fatal myocardial infarction, etc.
- Dairy products- the presence of various nutrients like calcium, probiotics, etc. renders dairy products to be rightly called one of the most important functional food.
- Beef- The presence of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) makes them act as a weight reduction agent for the human
- Chocolates- Chocolates are rich in cocoa which contains flavonoids. These flavonoids enhance the level of endorphin and serotonin in the body.
Thus one can very well say that adding functional foods to our diet makes us healthy. But a dietician’s recommendation should be taken to demarcate functional foods from the web of foods as every individual has a different dietary requirement.