The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines a functional food as ‘a food that provides additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote good health.’
Oatmeal is one example of a functional food because it naturally contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. Garlic is another, since it’s unique set of sulfur-containing compounds have been shown to protect blood vessels from oxidative stress and inflammation. Some foods are modified to have health benefits, such as orange juice that’s been fortified with calcium for bone health.
Of course, all foods are functional because they provide varying amounts of nutrients and energy to sustain growth or support the vital processes of your body. However, functional foods are considered to have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.
Because there’s no legal or governmental definition of what a functional food is, consumers are left to evaluate a food’s health claims on their own. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates claims that manufacturers make about functional foods’ nutrient content and effects on disease, health or body function. This includes conventional as well as modified and ‘fortified’ foods. However, health claims are often made as a marketing tool, and it’s more helpful to pay attention to the nutritional labels on the back of the box than the claims on the front of the box. Generally, you would have to eat a lot of a fortified food to get the same clinical benefit as eating a whole, natural food.
In this blog, I will be posting information from time to time on ‘functional foods’ that have been researched and provide some evidence of benefit for particular health challenges. Keep in mind that even though a food may be healthy for most people, there are exceptions for some people. For instance, if you have an allergy to certain foods, or are taking medications that interact with elements of some foods, then they may not be ‘healthy’ for you. When in doubt, always check with your personal physician.
And remember, functional foods are no substitute for overall healthy eating habits. It is still crucial to eat a balanced and varied diet of whole foods. But if you can help your body heal a particular problem by supplying it with a natural nutrient instead of a pharmaceutical, go for it! Aligning with your divine design and providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly can keep you healthy for a lifetime.
Do you have questions about functional foods? Feel free to ask in the comment section below!
To your health,