Many of us recognize the concept of functional foods as one of the latest buzzwords in the food and health industry. However, not many of us know that this is a concept that has a lengthy history behind it. The term was coined during the 1980s by the Japanese health authorities in an aim to improve quality of life of the general population by enhancing their health.
The concept itself refers to the types of food that were developed specifically to ward off diseases and boost overall health. In other words, functional foods aren’t only there to provide us with basic nutrition, but also to promote good overall health and wellness. In this article, we’ll be looking at different examples of functional foods, their roles and benefits, and the reasons why these foods are so important. Let’s take a look.
The definition of functional foods
Functional foods, sometimes also referred to as nutraceuticals, are nutrient-rich foods that deliver various health benefits in addition to providing nutritional value. These are usually foods that are fortified with minerals, vitamins, fibers, and probiotics (modified foods), as well as foods that are naturally rich in nutrients (conventional foods) – foods such as fruits, vegetables, and so on. These foods provide the body with certain biologically active components. These components then protect the body from diseases and illnesses, thus offering the potential of boosting a person’s overall health.
The history of functional foods
While we may hear about them a lot these days, in reality, functional foods and the concept itself are nothing new. In fact, even the term itself can easily be understood by referring to what the Greek physician Hippocrates was saying more than 2000 years ago – “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Even then, people understood the power of food in improving their health and wellness. As a result, there are multiple examples of ancient diets that work today and that highlight how certain foods make for some of the best and healthiest choices even in this day and age.
What are some good examples of functional foods?
We already mentioned that functional foods are placed in one of the two categories – conventional and modified. The ingredients from the first group – conventional functional foods – are ingredients that are natural foods that contain vital nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, dietary fibre, and heart-healthy fats. These include whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, seafood, herbs, spices, fermented foods, and certain beverages such as tea and coffee. The ingredients from the second group – modified functional foods – contain added biologically active components such as probiotics, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. These include fortified versions of everything from grains and juices to eggs and dairy products (including milk alternatives).
How do functional foods work?
Functional foods are intended to be a part of a normal everyday diet. After all, we are what we eat, and by consuming functional foods on a daily basis, we can reap a multitude of health benefits and better our health in general. The way they work is by supplying the body with the nutrients it needs in order to function optimally. When accompanied by high-quality functional medicine supplements, functional foods can help prevent and address nutrient deficiencies (if there are any). This powerful combination enhances an individual’s intake of nutrients that are vital for bodily functions. So, in addition to filling in any nutritional gaps, you’ll also be supporting your overall health.
What are the potential benefits of functional foods?
With an increased awareness of the link between diet and health, more people are recognizing the vital role the food we eat plays in maintaining our health and well-being. And while we’re all aware that there’s a lengthy list of foods bad for our health, we should also understand the way functional foods contribute to our health and wellness. For instance, functional foods that are high in fiber are said to promote better blood sugar. Those rich in omega-3s support heart health, while antioxidant-rich functional foods help neutralize compounds such as free radicals which are harmful. Foods fortified with certain vitamins help promote proper growth and development in children and infants. These essential vitamins include vitamin B (B12 and folic acid), calcium, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Finally, functional foods help protect against various diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and stroke.
We certainly live in a time when things like proper nutrition and healthy eating are often an afterthought. That said, our diet, along with our lifestyle, is directly related to our health and well-being. By focusing on functional foods, i.e. foods that promote good health and ward off diseases, we can manage to do so much more than simply meet our basic nutritional needs and reap the numerous powerful health benefits that these miraculous foods offer.
I’m a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me, and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. I follow all the trends in fitness, gym and healthy life, and l love to share my knowledge in this field through useful and informative articles.