Eating a balanced diet is the ideal way to ensure adequate consumption of vitamins and minerals, but the majority of consumers simply do not eat a variety of foods—especially fruits and vegetables. Besides they don’t want to take pills for nutrient delivery. As a result there has been a rise in functional foods that have tried to bridge some specific dietary gaps.
Functional Foods is a term used to describe foods or their ingredients, that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. These foods may include whole foods (fruits & vegetables) as well as fortified orange juice with calcium, enriched or enhanced foods & dietary supplements that have a beneficial effect on health.
Examples of foods for which research has shown health benefits include:
Oat & oat products contain psyllium and help in lowering cholesterol levels thereby reducing heart disease risk.
Soy lowers cholesterol levels and reduces heart disease risk.
Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that may prevent against stroke and heart disease.
Cranberry juice reduces risk of urinary tract infections.
Tomato sauce and cooked tomato products contain lycopene that may protect against certain cancers.
Red wine contains resveratrol and polyphenols that protect against heart disease.
Black and green tea have a cancer-preventive effect.
Yogurt contains probiotics that have beneficial effects on gastrointestinal function and immunity.
Onions and wheat, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke (“sunchokes”), garlic and a variety of fruits and vegetables contain oligosaccharide which helps prevent constipation, protects liver function, reduces blood pressure and serum cholesterol, and may have an anticancer effect. They may also play a role in preventing osteoporosis. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain Sulphoraphane which stimulates the body to produce its own protectivephase II enzyme, neutralizes free radicals.
Low-fat foods as part of a low-fat diet (eg, cheese, snack foods, meats, fish, dairy) are Low in total fat or saturated fat and help to Reduce risk of cancer & coronary heart disease.
There’s no doubt that functional foods’ role in reducing the risk of diseases is promising, but a lot of research is still needed to prove efficacy. Traditional foods should be the basis for future functional foods, with a focus on enhancing their natural components through fortification. Future examples may include adding omega-3-fatty acids to cheese and to eggs (currently omega eggs are being piloted in Midwest), and B-vitamins and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to milk.
ADA has presented a summary of select functional foods and the scientific evidence supporting their health benefit(s). Click here to know more.