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Functional Foods: Can the benefits outweigh the risk?

BBC research estimates that global interest for functional foods will reach 176.7 billion in 2013 with a compounded AGR (CAGR) of 7.4 %. Inspite of consumer concern regarding the benefits tauted by the manufacturers of functional food , the baby boomers have made functional foods the leading trend in the US food industry.

Like or not, you are already consuming functional foods. When you use iodized salt to marinate beef (salt contains iodine which prevents goiter,beef contains CLA,a conjugated linolic acid ) munching on your toast for breakfast (breads and flour are fortified with folate to prevent birth defects and protect your heart), spreading benecol on your toast, a margarine that lowers cholesterol, drinking orange juice fortified with calcium,drinking milk fortified with vitamin A & D and eating poached egg fortified with omega 3. There are also sports drinks and mineral water to hydrate you. On your way to work, chew on a brain gum , brain gum is suppose to improve memory. The active ingredient is phosphatidy serine (PS) a fat like substance extracted from soybean and cow brain. Wait, how about soup for lunch . Hain ‘s Kitchen Prescription soups are laced with Echinacea to prevent sniffles or St. Johns Wort for your depression.
According to Steven DeFelice,Chairman of the Foundation of Innovation in Medicine in Cranford, New Jersey, 95% of functional foods have not been clinically tested and are making claims that are not supported by clinical datas

Unlike the UK, Canada and Japan, the United States have no specific guidelines on labeling for functional foods. The (FDA) Food and Drug Administration oversees and regulates manufacturing of functional foods in the United States . Concerns outside the purview of FDA is accompanied by a disclaimer, “This product is not intended to diagnose,treat,cure or prevent any disease.”.

In the last decade interest on functional foods fueled the food industry to do extensive research and manufacture food products that will meet consumer demands. The key factors that increase consumer demands for functional foods are (1.) self care movement (2.) changes in food regulation (3.) overwhelming scientific evidence illustrating the critical link between diet health and disease.

What is functional food? The ( IFIC ) International Food Information Council defines functional food “as a food that provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition”. The Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Science describes functional food as “any modified food or ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrient it contains “. FNB 1994.

Functional foods includes whole grain,fortified, enriched or enhanced foods which provides beneficial effect on the health of an individual when consumed as a part of a varied diet , and on a regular basis in adequate portions. Simply put-a balance diet.
Interest in functional foods have resulted in a number of new products in the market place that are designed to meet specific health concerns particularly as related to chronic disease and aging

The following traditional functional foods appears to offer the following benefits:
1. Beef-a fatty acid known as conjugated linolic acid or CLA . Scientific research continues to determine CLA’s potential to suppress tumors.
2. Citrus fruit-a rich source of vitamin C, folate and fiber.New research surface to show that it is also a rich source of limonoids, which have been identified as protective against a variety of spontaneous and chemically induced tumors in rats and mice.
3. Cranberry and blueberry juice contain compounds that inhibit the adherance of e. coli to cell walls and thus help protect against UTI (urinary tract infection) . Cranberry is also rich in benzoic acid which acidifies the urine. A word of caution: cranberry contains Vitamin K and should be avoided by individuals taking the prescription drug Warfarin or Coumadin (blood thinner medication)
4.Garlic-The sulfur compound in garlic has been tauted for its ability to reduce cancer, however, studies are conflicting . A large control study in China showed inverse relationship between stomach cancer and consumption of garlic and onions, another study of 40,000 post menopousal women showed that garlic consumption protected against colon cancer, other epidemological studies showed negative result.
5. Oat -5 to 10 grams per day (about 1 cup dry oatmeal) of soluble fiber reduces total cholesterol and LDL (low density lipoprotein,a bad cholesterol) to approximately 10%, reducing the risk for heart disease.
6. Soy -25 grams appears to be the effective daily level to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides.
7. Tea- The pholyphenolic compounds in tea may protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Epidemological studies are inconclusive.High intake of 5 or more cups of green tea per day have been associated with decrease reoccurence of Stage 1 and 2 breast cancer in Japanese women.
8. Flax seed-may have anti cancer and heart protective properties. It is rich in alpha linoleic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid. Consuming flax seed reduces total and LDL cholesterol as well as platelet aggregation. It contains a fiber called lignan which interact with the intestinal tract to form two estrogen like compounds that may help prevent estrogen dependent cancer.
In rodents flax seed decrease tumors of the colon,mammary gland and lungs. It also a stool softener and beneficial to your proper gut functioning.

Other food also qualify as a functional food even if they contain non essential substances but provides potential health benefits.

Examples of these diverse foods that are considered functional foods are psyllium seeds (soluble fiber)soy food (isoflavanoids), cranberry juice (proanthocyanidins),purple grape juice (resveratrol),tomatoes (lycopene),green tea( catechin) Probiotics (lactobacilli and bifidobactrin) is a healthy bacteria that resides in the human intestinal tract. Natural food sources are fermented dairy,yoghurt and kefir. A diet rich in fermented dairy may lower cholesterol and cancer risk. It also maintain gut function and health by preventing overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Because good immunity depends on a healthy gut, probiotic is a must to keep our immune system healthy. Prebiotic are inulin,polydextrose and fructo oligosaccharides (FOS) these are CHO in foods that the body can not digest or absorb, Food sources are whole grain cereal,some fruits,onion,garlic,asparagus,leek,honey, agar, fortified foods and beverages. As they pass through the gut, probiotic bacteria feeds on them. Probiotic and prebiotic has a symbiotic relationship, both are beneficial in keeping a functioning gut and healthy immune system.

Be cautious when using fortified,enhance and enriched functional foods as some of the nutrients added can interact with the medications you are taking. Allergies can also occur when taking herbs and herb tea and can result in discomfort and or illness.

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