All About Functional Foods

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JAWAHAR NIDAMBOOR

Functional foods represent natural foods that provide health-promoting and disease-preventing benefits in the body. When you consume functional foods on a regular basis you will be able to reduce the risk of illness. This can further help your physician in the management of several diseases, including heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, menopausal issues, osteoporosis, eye affections, cancer etc.,

Functional foods include whole, fortified, enriched or enhanced foods and dietary supplements.

The term, ‘functional foods’ is primarily used to signify foods and their components that offer health benefits beyond the scope of basic nutrition. Put simply, functional foods meet not just our minimum, but also optimal, daily requirements of nutrients. They are suggested to promote vibrant health and wellness and reduce the risk of disease.

Nutritional experts have identified hundreds of compounds with functional qualities. Also, new discoveries are being constantly made surrounding the complex benefits of functional foods.

POINTS TO PONDER

Functional foods are also called phytochemicals, or nutraceuticals.

By way of definition, functional foods, or phytochemicals, are natural, bioactive chemical compounds that have health-promoting, disease-preventing, and medicinal, or therapeutic, properties.

You may sure think of all foods as being functional, because they provide nutrients. You are right. However, functional foods denote foods that have health-promoting ingredients, or natural components. These are components that have been found to have potential benefits in the body. They also include whole foods that are fortified, enriched or enhanced, aside from dietary supplements. They all have beneficial effects on our health.

The concept of functional foods is not a recent phenomenon. It has been perfected over the years. Efforts are also being made to improve upon them on a continual basis. To pick one classical example: food manufacturers began adding iodine to salt in an effort to prevent goitre, in the early 1900s. This was, perhaps, the first attempt man made at creating a functional food through enrichment.

As you know, many of the foods we consume are natural, whole foods. They do not become functional foods, just because we known them by that name.

Functional foods can be derived from agricultural breeding, or through added nutrients/ingredients.

NATURE’S BOUNTY

Nature has provided us with several fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, and dairy and meat products. All of them contain numerous natural components. The components convey benefits far beyond fundamental nutrition.

Some examples:

  • Lycopene, the functional food component, in tomato
  • Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon
  • Saponin in soybean.

[Note: For those of you who cannot resist tea and chocolate, there’s no need to worry too. Recent studies suggest that tea and chocolate have functional food traits that are beneficial to our health].

The nutritional content of certain crops can also be engineered through the same agricultural techniques that are used to bring about beneficial traits in plants and animals. To think of just two major examples: beta-carotene-rich rice and vitamin-enhanced soybean.

While research is going on to improve the nutritional quality of several other crops, there are countless examples of fortified foods available in the market. Orange juice, for instance, is fortified with calcium. Likewise, cereals and flour, with added vitamins or minerals, or folic acid, are also available.

Research suggests that eating functional foods on a regular basis can help reduce the risk of illness. It can also aid in the management of illness, or disease. These include heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, eye affections, cancer, and so on.

There is, however, no single magic potion or formula that can cure, or prevent, health affections. The best and easiest thing for us to do is quite simple. Eat a balanced and varied diet. This should include at least 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables, everyday, as well as foods with added beneficial components.

We should also learn to read labels and scan through what research advises through articles in the media. However, before you decide to make any major dietary changes, you need to take adequate time to weigh up your personal health. So, speak to your physician on realistic ways that can help reduce your risk of illness.

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