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What Are Functional Foods?

If you think any food can be functional, think again. “Functional food” is a unique term that refers to foods with health promoting qualities, following the well-revered Hippocrates ancient advice to let “food be your medicine.”

Centuries later, in 1980, the Japanese government developed a process to recognize and approve functional foods that were called Foods for Specified Health Use. Sweden and Canada followed Japan’s lead in establishing laws to define products that earn the classification as functional foods.

For people are more interested in super foods than super-sizing, functional foods are their choice to sustain health. Both fresh and processed foods can be classified as functional foods depending on the nutritional value.  

For that reason, you may also see these foods called “nutraceuticals,” a nutrient dense food that has the positive benefits of pharmaceuticals for certain diseases and conditions. Among the processes acceptable for functional foods are vitamin–enriched or fermented.

Some foods have added vitamins and minerals. Fermented foods use live cultures to deliver useful probiotics. Food science is reaching sophisticated levels in identifying the nutrients and in designing nutritional interventions.

Personalizing nutrition plans and foods for individuals is a new field of food science called “Nutrigenomics.” The idea is to use an individual’s genetic pattern as the basis for designing nutritional interventions to protect against diseases.

Functional foods are being found in more places than the typical grocery store shelves. From the depths of the ocean comes Sea Aloe, a powerful antioxidant functional food and dietary supplement.

Flavanoids in citrus, berries and red grapes are another popular taste that offers real health benefits. Chocolate and tea fans will be pleased to know that the Flavanols in these favorites are as potent as what’s found in apples.

If “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” then maybe the same can be said for a chocolate bar or a pot of tea! Prebiotics found in onions, garlic, honey and leeks can be as valuable for gastrointestinal health as that of Probiotics such as yeast and lactobacilli in yogurts and some cultured dairy products.

No individual food is the magic pill for optimal health. To reach and sustain good health, your body needs more functional foods instead of junk foods or foods with poor nutritional quality, which are too often found in restaurants and in home kitchens. Functional foods include a variety of tastes and textures that are enjoyable as well as foods that help you live longer.