What are Functional Foods?

~ October 2002 No.158 ~

The term functional food has been a hot one in nutrition – health circles. Suddenly, we are being told that our food can be our medicine and, with the right choice of foods, we can live longer, healthier lives.

More and more, the line between what we eat and our health is becoming clearer; diet is now believed to be an important causal factor (amongst several other factors perhaps) in diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and many cancers.

So what happened? Why are our foods suddenly now functional foods? Two things have been gong on that, until recently, were being developed almost independently of each other. On the one hand, the science of chemical analysis has made great strides in the recent past; components of food as small as 1 part in a billion (ppb) are now routinely being measured. This increased analytical power has shown us that our foods contain much more that just the traditional vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fat – the so called macro-nutrients. The food we eat is a smorgasbord of complex chemicals – often termed phytochemicals – that have a wide variety of chemical properties. These phytochemicals have many positive effects on our metabolism e.g. some are antioxidants, some stimulated the immune system.

At the same time that we are better able to tell what is in our food, scientists are also showing how the things we eat are digested, metabolized and affect our body functions. It is clear that to grow, stay healthy, and fight disease and infection, we need more than just the macro-nutrients. Experiments at the cellular level are showing how enzyme systems control our metabolism and how very small quantities of phytochemicals are involved.

We can no longer look upon our food as merely bulk that we consume three times a day to fight off hunger. It is more than a collection of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fat. Our food contains ingredients that are good for our health.

Yoghurt as a functional food
Traditional View of Yoghurt Yoghurt as a Functional Food
A source of : A source of :
High quality proteinProbiotic bacteria
CalciumBioactive peptides
VitaminsButyrate
 Conjugated linoleic acid
 Sphingolipids
  1. Reference
  2. Martínez, J. A. “Yoghurt: eighty years of active research for health”. London. Ed. John Libbey & Co. Ltd. 1999.

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