Functional foods go beyond providing basic nutrition and nutrients; they offer health benefits that can protect against chronic diseases. While whole foods provide essential carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals for overall health, functional foods contain unique compounds that provide additional advantages. This concept gained prominence in the 1980s in Japan when the government-funded research to explore the impact of certain foods on human health. In 1991, Japan introduced the “Foods for Specialized Health Use (FOSHU)” category, allowing certain foods to be approved by the government and carry the FOSHU seal on their labels.
Health Benefits Of Functional Foods:
Functional foods are rich sources of antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, anthocyanin, and polyphenols, which combat free radicals and protect against brain damage, ageing, cataracts, and cancers. They also play a role in reducing and controlling inflammation, a key factor in various chronic health issues.
Additionally, functional foods provide probiotics, which enhance immunity. Foods containing prebiotics also act as functional foods by nourishing beneficial gut bacteria, preserving gut integrity, preventing infections, and aiding in sugar regulation, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
5 Functional Food Components And Nutrients:
1. Dietary Fibre:
Dietary fibre increases bile salt excretion, which reduces cholesterol, promotes regular bowel movements, removes toxins from the body, regulates blood sugar, and helps with weight control. Sources include whole grains, millet, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and whole fruits.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
These fats are known for their cardiovascular benefits, reducing triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol levels, and the risk of blood clot formation, while also boosting immunity. Sources include walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, salmon, trout, and tuna.
Found in cruciferous vegetables, these compounds reduce the risk of cancers of the stomach, breast, liver, oesophagus, lung, small intestine, and colon. They also protect against stomach cancers related to helicobacter pylori and heart diseases. Sources include broccoli, brussels sprouts, watercress, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale.
These pigments found in plants offer antioxidant, antiallergic, antiviral, antitoxic, antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. They are linked to the prevention of heart diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and potential cancer treatment. Sources include dried parsley, red onions, cranberries, asparagus, blackcurrants, and various teas.
5. Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics:
Probiotics are live bacteria that enhance gut flora and maintain gut integrity. Prebiotics are the food for these beneficial bacteria, usually indigestible fibres, and have demonstrated anticancer and antiviral properties. Foods providing both are called synbiotic sources. Probiotic sources include yogurt, buttermilk, pickles, kimchi, and kefir. Prebiotic sources include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
This list is not exhaustive, and compounds like polyols, phytoestrogens, soy proteins, and carotenoids have specific functions for enhancing health. Notably, these compounds are most effective when consumed as whole foods, as they work synergistically with other natural compounds and nutrients. Therefore, consuming whole, fresh foods is the most beneficial approach for harnessing the power of functional foods.
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