What are functional foods?

Functional foods potentially have a positive effect on essential nutrition health beyond. Proponents of functional foods, they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease. A familiar example of functional food is oatmeal because it contains soluble fiber that can lower cholesterol levels. An example is an orange juice that's been fortified with calcium for bone health. The Food and Drug Administration claims that manufacturers can make about functional foods' nutrient content. 

 Also called nutraceuticals, functional foods are highly nutritious and are associated with several health benefits powerful. They may protect against disease, prevent nutrient deficiencies, and promote proper growth and development. Functional foods are ingredients that offer health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. Some types contain supplements or other additional ingredients designed to improve health.

Some examples include foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fiber. Nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains are often considered functional foods. In addition to nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits and veggies, the category also includes foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fiber.

See: Functional Medicine For Brain Fog Treatment

Video: Mindful steps to healthy eating

Examples of functional foods

Functional foods can be separated into two categories: conventional and modified. Conventional functional foods are natural, whole-food ingredients rich in important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats. Meanwhile, modified foods have been fortified with additional ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fiber, to increase a food's health benefits.

Some examples of conventional functional foods are:

•    Fruits: pears, peaches, apples, berries, kiwi, oranges, bananas

•   Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, zucchini

•   Whole grains: oats, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, couscous

•   Nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts

•   Seeds: flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds

•   Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, lentils

•  Seafood: salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, cod

•  Beverages: green tea, black tea, coffee, 

•  Fermented foods: tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut

•  Herbs and spices: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper

Here are some examples of modified functional foods:

•  fortified juices

•  fortified dairy products, such as milk and yogurt

•  fortified milk alternatives, such as almond, rice, coconut, and cashew milk

• fortified grains, such as bread and pasta

•  fortified cereal and granola

•  fortified eggs

See: Spinach as an Antioxidant for Benefit of Health

What are functional foods good for?

In the 1980s, the Japanese government created a class of "functional foods" — conventional and modified foods that included additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA regulates foods labeled as functional, it does not provide a legal definition of the term. News magazine and articles reports tout the benefits of eating "functional foods," which they claim can do everything from reducing cholesterol to prevent conditions such as heart disease or cancer. Most foods are functional as they deliver physiological benefits, including carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle repair, or vitamins and minerals for cell function.

Functional foods are associated with several potential health benefits.

- May prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Functional foods are typically high in important nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber.

Filling your diet with various functional foods ⁠— including conventional and fortified foods⁠ — can help ensure you get the nutrients you need and protect against nutrient deficiencies.

In fact, since the introduction of fortified foods, the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies has significantly decreased around the globe. For instance, after iron-fortified wheat flour was introduced in Jordan, rates of iron deficiency anemia among children were nearly cut in half.  Fortification has also been used to prevent other conditions caused by nutrient deficiencies, including rickets, goiter, and birth defects.

May promote proper growth.

Certain nutrients are essential to proper growth and development in infants and children. Enjoying a wide range of nutrient-rich functional foods as part of a healthy diet can ensure that nutritional needs are met. Besides, it can be beneficial to include foods that are fortified with specific nutrients that are important for growth and development. For example, cereals, grains, and flours are often fortified with B vitamins like folic acid, essential for fetal health.

Low levels of folic acid can increase the risk of neural tube defects, affecting the brain, spinal cord, or spine. Other nutrients commonly found in functional foods also play key roles in growth and development, including omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12.

- May protect against disease.

Functional foods provide important nutrients that can help protect against disease. Many are especially rich in antioxidants. These molecules help neutralize harmful compounds known as free radicals, helping prevent cell damage and certain chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Some functional foods are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy type of fat shown to reduce inflammation, boost brain function, and promote heart health.

Other types are rich in fiber, promoting better blood sugar control and protecting against diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Fiber may also help prevent digestive disorders, including diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, and acid reflux.

See: How Adding Fiber in your Diet Helps Type 2 Diabetes

Video: Functional Medicine For Diabetes

Functional foods benefits

American consumers are left to evaluate many claims on their own. Focusing on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list on the back of a food package can help you determine if a food is a healthful choice. Fortified foods have a place in a healthy eating plan, and they may help fill gaps in nutrient intake, but they shouldn't replace foods that naturally contain those nutrients when possible. For example, only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D, so products that are fortified with it, such as milk, act as sources of vitamin D for many people. Other foods and beverages may be fortified with nutrients that aren't as difficult to obtain. Some fortified products may also contain high amounts of added sugars or sodium, so be sure to review the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients.

Eating more nutrient-dense, functional foods can help with many health concerns.

- Fish (Sardines and Salmon)

These protein-packed fish are lower in mercury and have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower the risk of heart disease and improve infant health when consumed by women during pregnancy or breastfeeding. About eight ounces of seafood a week is a good goal for adults, which amounts to two meals per week.

Whole Grains

Often overshadowed by the fame of oatmeal, barley delivers similar benefits. It's high in dietary fiber, and under-consumed nutrient of public health concern in the U.S., and may help lower cholesterol and assist with blood sugar control.

Beans

Beans provide dietary fiber, as well as protein, potassium, and folate. While canned beans are fine, look for those with no salt added. If you choose beans with salt added, rinse and drain them before use, which reduces sodium significantly.

- Nuts

They make a great snack, help you feel full, and may help promote heart health. Bonus: most unsalted nuts, including cashews and almonds, are good magnesium sources, which help manage blood pressure.

- Berries

Whether you opt for strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries, berries, in general, are wonderful functional foods. Not only are they low in calories, their anthocyanin pigments, which give them color, may offer health-promoting benefits. If you can't get fresh berries, frozen unsweetened berries make a fine alternative.

See: Strawberries nutrition health benefits

Functional Foods Uses

Functional foods can be used to boost your intake of important nutrients, fill any gaps in your diet, and support overall health. A well-rounded, healthy diet should be rich in various functional foods, including nutrient-rich whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These foods supply your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs and support overall health. Modified, fortified functional foods can also fit into a balanced diet. They can help fill any gaps in your diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies and enhance health by boosting your intake of important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart-healthy fats, or probiotics. 

See: Probiotics in Yogurt can improve brain function by altering the intestinal microflora

Summary

Functional foods are a category of food associated with several powerful health benefits. They can not only prevent nutrient deficiencies but also protect against disease and promote proper growth and development. Besides enjoying a variety of healthy whole foods, you can include more fortified foods in your diet to fill any nutritional gaps and support better health.


See: Are canned beans healthy

Get a Consultation
(650) 539-4545
Get more information via email