Posted on May 05, 2023, 2 p.m.
Increasing interest is being shown in people wanting to improve their health by making more healthful food choices, as such functional foods are gaining popularity in health and wellness. This is actually a great choice as science and medicine have long supported this lifestyle intervention option and are revealing the associations between the gut and the brain.
Most people believe that food can help to improve physical and mental health and that food, quality of life, and the risk of developing a disease are linked together. This is where functional foods come in because food is medicine in preventive health, in short, functional foods offer health benefits that extend beyond nutritional value.
According to the Institute of Food Technologists, functional food is defined as being common to the human diet, providing more nutrients than are required for development, maintenance, and growth, as well as helping to prevent or treat a disease. These include fortified foods, phytonutrient-containing fruits and vegetables, fish, fermented foods, and certain chocolates. They are foods that contain components such as specific vitamins, minerals, dietary fibers, probiotics, natural antioxidants, and fatty acids with the potential to improve physical/mental health or reduce the risk of certain diseases/conditions.
The FDA regulates what can be claimed about nutrient contents and their effects on health or disease, under the DSHEA (United States Dietary Supplement Health Education Act), which also includes dietary supplements. Typically rich in important nutrients, a diet containing a variety of functional foods can help you obtain what is needed to protect against deficiencies and diseases, and support overall health, as well as promote proper growth and development.
Conventional foods are whole food ingredients rich in important nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-friendly fats. Conventional functional foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, seafood, fermented foods, herbs, spices, and green/black tea.
As functional components of foods or ingredients that enhance physical or mental performance, or help to prevent or treat diseases or conditions are discovered they are added to conventional food to create fortified foods that are health-enhancing such as milk alternatives, cereal, granola, juices, and eggs.
Dietary fiber is a common component of functional foods, and it was the 1st component to be given the approval to claim a health-enhancing effect. Dietary fiber is either soluble or insoluble. Fiber helps digestion because it is resistant to digestion. Healthy choices of foods containing soluble fiber include oats, barley, beans, legumes, and prunes. Fiber can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, and reduce the absorption of fat in the GI tract among other beneficial effects.
Probiotics are living organisms that have a beneficial effect on our gut microbiome such as lowering cholesterol and enhancing immune function. Yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables are good sources of probiotics. Prebiotics, such as soy oligosaccharides, on the other hand, are indigestible foods that stimulate the growth/activity of one or more bacteria in the colon.
Plant sterols and stanols are chemically like cholesterol, they are found in chocolate, rye bread, mature cheeses, yogurt, or spreads used as butter substitutes and act in the small bowel to lower cholesterol and they may help to improve urinary symptoms in those with benign prostatic hypertrophy.
The benefits of fatty acids have been known for over 20 years, showing benefits to health in several common diseases and roles in cardiovascular disease, reducing inflammation, and boosting brain function, as well as the importance to nervous system health. Salmon, tuna, whitefish, herring, anchovies, flaxseed, and walnuts are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
The FDA has concluded that soy protein when consumed with a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol may help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and the amino acids within it may help to decrease the circulation of LDL cholesterol.
Glucosamine is found in all human tissues but is in the highest concentrations in joint cartilage. Supplements that include sulfates have been shown to have beneficial effects in treating osteoarthritis, though their use is somewhat controversial.
Functional foods are associated with several powerful health benefits ranging from reducing cholesterol to helping to reduce the risk of cancer. What you put into your body does matter, especially over time; with the right foods working to help make you healthier in the short and long term, while bad choices contribute to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and premature death. Food is medicine, and prevention will always be better than cure.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
Content may be edited for style and length.
References/Sources/Materials provided by: