- Functional foods extend beyond simply providing calories and essential nourishment, playing an active role in improving health. They can either be natural whole foods or those that have been nutritionally enhanced.
- There are three primary classifications of functional foods: everyday foods with advanced nutritional value, foods fortified with extra nutrients, and synthesized food ingredients like prebiotics.
- Many functional foods, such as fattier fish and olive oil, are readily available and can easily be incorporated into daily meals for their advanced nutrients like omega-3s and monounsaturated fats.
- Functional foods are especially rich in micronutrients, including over 8,000 identified plant-based chemicals, or phytonutrients, which contribute to their vibrant colors and potential health benefits.
- It’s recommended to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet for a diverse intake of these beneficial phytonutrients; the combinations that make them extra beneficial are still being studied.
Functional foods may not have an official legal definition, but don’t let that fool you. This phrase is more than just a catchy marketing jargon. As classified by health groups like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, functional foods go beyond simply providing calories and essential nourishment. These foods play an active role in enhancing one’s health. They could either be natural whole foods or those that have been nutritionally boosted.
But what qualifies a food as functional? Well, backed-up research results are necessary to claim and confirm the benefits that these foods can offer when incorporated regularly into a healthy diet.
Categories of Functional Foods
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics specifies three main classifications of functional foods. To begin with, we have our everyday foods. These include vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, fish, and meat that contain compounds offering advanced nutritional value. Examples include the probiotics in yogurt and the antioxidants in berries.
The following category is made up of foods that have been nutritionally enriched or fortified with nourishing food compounds, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
And trailing at the end are food ingredients that have been synthesized, for instance, prebiotics.
Embracing Functional Foods in Your Regular Diet
Fortunately, many functional foods are just a supermarket hop away, making it convenient to integrate more of them into your diet. For example, consider fattier fish like albacore tuna, salmon, or herring for dinner. These fishes are functional foods due to their natural concentrations of omega-3s. Olive oil is also on the list for its monounsaturated fat content that may lower heart disease risks.
Where many functional foods truly shine is in their micronutrient content. Think of the polyphenols that lend fruits and veggies their vibrant colours. While research on many of these substances is still in its infancy, over 8,000 “phyto,” or plant-based chemicals have been identified so far.
Although many fruits and vegetables contain these useful chemicals, the specific combinations that make them super beneficial are still being unravelled. Therefore, to ensure that you’re getting a diverse nutrient array, include fruits and vegetables of every colour of the rainbow in your diet at every opportunity.
More Insightful Information
For more detail about phytonutrients and their health-boosting potentials, check out the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website.