What are functional foods?
Before defining functional foods, it is important to contextualize functional by definition: – of or having a special activity, purpose, or task; relating to the way in which something works or operates – Wikipedia.
As you can see, merely applying the term “functional” to any food is a fallacy. The fact is that all foods are functional, whether they are natural (e.g., organic, not modified, etc.) or manmade concoctions (e.g., chemically latent, refined, processed, genetically modified, etc.).
Either way, every food (or beverage) either promotes health or demotes health.
“Any food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.” The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board (IOM/FNB, 1994)
Reread that one more time. Can you see any dysfunction, contradiction, or confusion?
Albeit a formal or legal definition does not exist (except in Japan – Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU)), functional foods are marketed as foods providing health benefits beyond the nutrients it contains (or did contain?) naturally.
Even though you may be searching for a list of functional foods, it is simpler to provide some examples of the criteria for functional foods that include:
- Foods fortified with specific nutrients (e.g., iron fortified, calcium fortified, Omega fortified, etc.)
- Modified foods promoted for specific health benefit claims (e.g., reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, etc.)
- Natural foods with specific nutrient/disease associations (e.g., tomatoes – lycopene, flaxseed – Omega3, oats – b-glucan fiber, garlic – sulfur, dairy – calcium, fish – Omega3, beef – conjugated linoleic acid, and so on)
Unfortunately, the label “functional foods” is merely a buzzword used as a marketing tool for food manufacturers and “experts” to spin an unsuspecting public. As you know, almost every nutrient is now associated with a disease!
For example, a sugarcoated cereal is currently promoted to “help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.” If you are a diabetic, you know how misleading (untruthful) this is. However, because fiber is scientifically proven to have positive effects on glucose levels, manufacturers can make these claims – no matter how misleading!
Don’t be fooled by functional foods!
Unfortunately, most functional foods are highly processed and refined. These processes strip most of the nutrients from their live state. After removing most of their natural nutrients, these foods are now dead foods – nutritionally devoid. After which, the manufacturer “enriches” a few specific nutrients back into the food.
However, merely adding a few specific nutrients into any food does not account for the myriad other nutrients collectively needed as cofactors to the added nutrient. This is the complexity of nutrient interrelationships as seen throughout other pages on this site.
Fortified is another common functional food term. When you look at supermarket shelves, almost every product (except beer!) is “fortified with calcium and vitamin D” and yet, interestingly, osteoporosis remains a problem in our society.
Unless you are absolutely certain of your specific nutrient needs through nutritional screenings, these types of “functional foods” can become very unhealthy by increasing the very nutrients you don’t need. Ultimately, this leads to nutrient excesses that are as unhealthy as nutrient deficiencies. In addition, these foods may not contain important cofactor nutrients required for absorption or the many metabolic processes of the fortified nutrient rendering the nutrient ineffective.
For example, calcium works in conjunction with myriad other nutrients beyond vitamin D. These include magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, copper, potassium, vitamins K, C, E, and A as well as numerous amino acids. This is not a complete list by any means but reveals how nutritionally “incomplete” functional foods may be.
In the end, functional foods are another attempt at a shotgun approach for nutrition and health that may not address your specific nutrient needs. Keep in mind, you can fortify the unhealthiest food known to humanity and still make a “functional” health claim!
Another institutionalized approach to “personalized” nutrition is nutrigenomics. This is based on your genetic profile. Unfortunately, thanks to your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, you are already saddled with your genetics. Basing ones diet solely on genetics may have merit but numerous factors in your everyday life may have equal or more detrimental health effects.
Your genetic diet may not address every day factors that include:
- Toxin exposures (heavy metals and chemicals)
- Medications (both prescription and OTC)
- Stress levels (chronic stress is epidemic)
Healthy foods and dietary supplements are your most functional foods!
Whether you choose commercially grown foods or organic foods, the primary function of every healthy food is to provide a wide spectrum of essential, non-essential, or conditionally essential nutrients. Simply put, your healthiest foods will increase specific nutrients that are currently deficient and not increase nutrients that are currently excessive. As you know, you simply cannot (or should not) consume such an enormous amount of food needed to adjust nutrient imbalances.
This is why dietary supplements exist.
Dietary supplements do not add the extra calories of over-eating but provide an easy means to boost the specific nutrients you need. However, not all dietary supplements are formulated equally. Unlike Trace Nutrients®, many supplements are formulated using the institutionalized (RDA, MDA, etc.) guidelines, fad nutrients, or myriad other marketing schemes.
The bottom line: Natural, unmodified, and organically grown foods combined with dietary supplements specific to your unique nutrient needs are your most functional foods.
Hair analysis and functional foods
As just stated, healthy foods that address your specific nutrient needs are your most effective functional foods. Our hair analysis is a simple means to screen your essential mineral excesses and deficiencies as well as the presence of toxic elements. Our Trace Elements Inc. Profile 2 Comprehensive hair analysis includes a list of healthy foods to either increase or avoid based on the specific results of your analysis.
Additional information you may find interesting:
- What is a Healthy Eating Plan
- How does Stress effect your nutrition
- Why should you be concerned about Toxic Elements
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The content and laboratory services provided on this site are for educational and informational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure disease.
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