Functional Foods For Health

February 23, 2010

This year, the Arizona State University’s Building Healthy Lifestyleconference will take place on February 25th and 26th.  The theme of the conference is “Functional Foods and Optimal Health: How Functional Foods Can Improve One’s Health” .   It should be a very interesting conference and I am looking forward to being a speaker on one of the hottest topics – Probiotics. 

It’s hard to believe that over 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates advocated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”  And now, today, many people are following his advice!  In recent years, consumers are interested in foods that  can enhance health and prevent disease.

For decades, we have been familiar with the health benefits of eating foods due to their nutritional benefits, such as drinking milk for calcium, which can help with strong bones. 

However, now, we are learning that certain foods have functions beyond basic nutrition. These foods are known as “functional foods”.  The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board defines functional foods as “any food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.”

Research has shown that foods that have “functional” components come from a variety of food sources- fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and fish.  And that these foods may delay or prevent the onset of  many chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, immune dysfunction, cataracts, and macular degeneration. 

 Below is a list of some examples of functional foods:

Functional Food Key Component Potential Health Benefit
Oats and oats-containing foods Soluble Fiber Reduce cholesterol
Certain types of fish (e.g. salmon, tuna) Omega-3 fatty acid Reduce risk for heart disease
Black and green tea Catechins Reduce risk for cancer
Fruits and vegetables Many different phytochemicals Reduce risk for cancer and heart disease
Yogurt and fermented dairy products Probiotics Improve gastrointestinal health and improve immune system