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Gulfood Green 2024

15 Jan 2024

Functional Foods: Superheroes for Health

Functional Foods: Superheroes for Health

Taste plays a chief role in why we choose foods, but healthfulness is also an important driver of food purchases, and many people want to know how specific nutrients affect their health and well-being. In fact, many people seek out certain foods to support their energy, weight management, digestive, heart health, sleep, and immunity goals. Whether it’s a probiotic yogurt or vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms, eating more functional foods (sometimes hyped-up as “superfoods”) can improve our health, longevity, and quality of life. Read on to find out how.

What Are Functional Foods?

The term “functional foods” originated in Japan during the 1980s. In 1991, the Japanese government established a regulatory system for the labeling of “Foods for Specified Health Uses” (FOSHU) to classify foods considered to be beneficial for human health. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also regulates functional foods, despite there being no legal definition in this country.

In general, foods are considered “functional” if they provide benefits beyond basic nutritional needs, such as further enhancing health and well-being. The beneficial nutrients in functional foods may be naturally present, or they may be added during manufacturing. The production of functional foods can also include the removal or substitution of some ingredients that may improve their nutritional profile—such as fat being removed from whole milk to create reduced-fat (2%), low-fat (1%), and fat-free (skim) milks. Other examples of functional foods include fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, legumeswhole grains, and fortified or enhanced foods like cereals and probiotic beverages. As you can see, there are a wide variety of functional foods to choose from—some in their whole form, and others that have been enriched, fortified, or otherwise nutritionally enhanced.

With a better understanding of what functional foods are, let’s dive into some of their benefits.

5 Disease-Fighting Functional Foods

Functional foods get their name from their positive impact on health, which can include the ways they support disease management and prevention. Many functional foods boast benefits like improving gut health, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. To reap the full benefit of functional foods, choose a wide variety as part of an overall healthy eating pattern. Here are five to consider:

Berries

Berries have deep, bold pigments of purple, red, and blue, indicating they’re rich in anthocyanins, which are antioxidants well-known for their contributions to brain and heart health. Berries are also full of pectin, a type of fiber that helps to reduce digestion speed, stabilize blood sugar, and lower cholesterol—all of which is good for heart health. Berries such as blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries are chock-full of other health-promoting, bioactive compounds like flavonols, ellagitannins, and phenolic acids, which work together to help protect us against numerous chronic diseases.

Black beans

Over the years, black beans have been used in a number of ways to enhance the nutritional value of foods, from brownies to burgers. Black beans are an affordable and versatile staple food for people worldwide. Not to mention, they’re brimming with good nutrition. Just a half-cup of black beans offers eight grams of fiber for better digestive health and blood sugar control, along with eight grams of protein to help keep you feeling full. Plant protein sources such as black beans also benefit heart health by improving cholesterol.

Green tea

This calming beverage may offer far more than warm comfort on a cold day. Green tea boasts an array of bioactive compounds called polyphenols, including catechins such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and flavonoids. These components can have positive effects on managing body weight and reducing our risk for developing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The health benefits of drinking green tea are dose-dependent and some varieties naturally contain caffeine, so if you end up upping your green tea intake, check out our caffeine calculator to help monitor your caffeine intake.

 

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