Functional Foods – What are functional foods and how do they benefit us?

Nutrition has moved on from the traditional concept of avoiding nutrient deficiencies to the concept of optimal nutrition. Nutrition research has moved to identifying components in foods which can optimise physical and mental well being and decrease the risk of disease. Functional foods are foods and drinks that are enriched with particular nutrients/substances that can positively influence health beyond their basic nutritional value.

Functional foods include foods generated around a particular functional ingredient i.e. stanols/sterols enriched low fat spread, foods fortified with a nutrient that would not usually be present i.e. folic acid fortified bread/breakfast cereals.

What is NOT a functional food: Functional foods and medicines are different from a legislative perspective. Claims about the ability to treat or prevent disease are not allowed on foods but are permitted on medicines.

Superfoods: there is no specific definition of a superfood and no method of testing whether a food is super or not. The term superfoods is sometimes used by journalists to describe a food that is rich in a particular nutrient or bioactive substance.

Examples of functional foods and their benefits :

Yoghurts/ yoghurt drinks: These contain probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms (mainly bacteria). Many probiotic bacterial strains are the result of fermentation.  Probiotics can also be added to foods to improve intestinal microbial balance i.e. lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Prebiotics are a non digestible component that have beneficial effects by stimulating the growth of bacteria in the colon. Examples of prebiotics include oligofructose and inulin.  Foods containing both probiotics and prebiotics assist in optimal intestinal function and intestinal microbial balance.

Margarines: Many margarines are fortified with plant sterols and stability esters. These margarines assist with decreased LDL cholesterol and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Omega 3 fatty acids enriched eggs: The omega 3 fatty acids assist in the control of hypertension and lipids metabolism.

Functional foods may provide health benefits but should not be seen as an alternative to a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. The research opportunities to explore the relationship between a food component and an improved state of health or reduction of disease, present a great challenge to scientific researchers both now and in the future. Communicating the health benefits to consumers is very important so that they have the knowledge to make informed choices about the foods they consume.

My next blog topic is – cheese – nutritional benefits versus weight gain.

 

 

 

 

 

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