Health Benefits of Functional Foods

 

Functional foods aim at complimenting a healthy diet with addition of superfoods that may have remarkable health benefits. Functional foods are emerging and expanding niche in the health and food industry. Functional foods shows consistent and significant role in the future of Nutraceutical industry.hey range from fruits, vegetables, whole grains to food supplements or herbal preparations that may include specific ingredients called phytochemicals that are known to have profound health benefit.

 

What are functional foods?

By basic definition the term functional foods implies to all foods since all foods impart aroma, taste and provide nutritive value. However, by specific definition they can also be foods that have additional physiologic benefits that may reduce the risk of disease or provide health benefits. For instance, the free radical scavenging ability of antioxidants vitamin C, E, carotenoids etc is property of superfoods such as goji berries, blueberries etc which is deemed as a functional food. There is growing number of research to investigate the disease reducing capabilities of such superfoods in the field of food science and nutrition. Such research studies have led to growing interests in the food industry, especially in the niche of superfoods which is often recognised as functional foods.

 

The concept of functional foods emerged first in Japan in the 1980’s. The government of Japan initiated a system to approve certain foods (superfoods) with documented health benefits to improve health and bring down the health care cost of Japan’s aging population(1). In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board defined functional foods as “any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains”. The International Life Sciences Institute defines them as “foods that, by virtue of the presence of physiologically-active components, provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition” (3). Till date there are no universally accepted definition with regards to functional foods.

 

Health benefits of functional foods

There are many heath benefits that are linked to the superfoods that are regarded as functional foods. In Eastern cultures these superfoods are part of the everyday healthy diet and considered to have medicinal and therapeutic value. Whereas in the west the superfoods are considered as a food supplement by the pharmaceutical and food market.

 

Following is the list of some functional foods and their potential health benefit

 

Functional food Potential Health Benefit
FlaxseedOatsSoyGarlicProbiotics – one of the superfoodsFruits and vegetablesGojiberries- one of the superfoodsBlueberries- one of the superfoodsKrill & salmon oil – one of the superfoods  Decreases the risk of heart disease, reduces triglyceride levelReduces cholesterol, constipation and decreases the risk of heart diseasesReduces cholesterol and decreases the risk of heart problemsDecreses blood cholesterol , reduces risk of heart disease, contains free radicalsSupports digestive and immune healthRich in antioxidants, reduces free radicalsand thereby decrease the risk of many degenerative diseasesRich in essential fatty acids, fights free radicals and reduces the risk of heart diseases and inflammatory conditions

 

It should be noted that functional foods are not magic bullets and never be thought of as a replacement of a regular healthy diet. The benefits of functional foods are amplified only when consumed along with a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

 

The success of functional foods depends on the food industry’s ability to develop new and effective products that meets consumer demands as well as provide positive benefits on health. For a functional food to gain popularity and also be considered as preferred choice of dietary supplement it should be supported by authenticate scientific research to reinforce its positive effects. The general public should also be educated well through informative health and nutrition articles that detail the role of super foods and  superfoods containing food supplements along with a healthy diet.

 

References

 

  1. Arai, S. (1996) Studies on functional foods in Japan—state of the art. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem. 60:9-15
  2. Committee on Opportunities in the Nutrition and Food Sciences, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (1994) Enhancing the food supply. Thomas, P. R. Earl, R. eds. Opportunities in the Nutrition and Food Sciences: Research Challenges and the Next Generation of Investigators :98-142 National Academy Press Washington, DC.
  3. International Life Sciences Institute (1999) Safety assessment and potential health benefits of food components based on selected scientific criteria. ILSI North America Technical Committee on Food Components for Health Promotion.Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 39:203-316.

 

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