Have you heard of functional foods?
You may have heard of the term ‘functional foods’ in recent years or months. With the rising trends in healthy living and healthy eating, consuming foods intentionally for their nutritional value has become more popular. Functional foods take this a step further – these are foods that people consume for a particular health property other than the traditional daily nutrients our bodies need. You may be thinking, ‘But can’t I just take a supplement for that particular nutrient or benefit?’ You could. And you can. There are benefits to both functional foods and supplements.
Functional foods can be described as foods that naturally contain bioactive compounds. These bioactive compounds provide health benefits that go beyond the basic or traditional nutrient value of the food. A traditional vitamin or mineral is essential – meaning we need them on a regular basis in order to sustain health. An example of a traditional, essential vitamin would be Vitamin C. Found in an orange, Vitamin C is a vital nutrient to life, and thus an orange would not be considered a functional food. In order for a food to be deemed ‘functional’, it needs to contain a unique bioactive compound. A great example of this is cranberries – which are rich in the bioactive compound ‘proanthocyanidin’. These have been shown to have a positive effect on urinary tract infections. Thus, a person would use cranberries as a functional food for the specific purpose of assisting in dealing with UTI. Other examples of functional foods would be beta-carotene (carrots) and lycopene (tomatoes). Functional food also includes food fortified with vitamins and minerals for a specific purpose, such as fortified milk or cereals.
Functional foods contain specific nutrients which promote health and prevent disease specifically. It is beneficial to be aware of the potential health benefits of functional foods that you eat regularly, thus allowing you to boost your overall health. Similarly, if you are dealing with an illness or health complaint, consuming functional food is a great way to help your body deal with the problem and restore health. An example of this would be if a person has a cold. Bone broth is an amazing functional food, and consuming bone broth during your cold will promote healing and health. You could still find yourself needing both nutraceuticals (supplements) and pharmaceuticals while you have a cold, but there is the added benefit of functional food (since you need to eat anyway!)
This brings us to the topic of nutraceuticals. Have you heard of the term ‘nutraceuticals”? If you haven’t – you’ll find that you actually know what they are, and most likely have a number of them in your medicine cabinet or pantry right now! Simply put, nutraceuticals are supplements comprised of natural nutrients that are not of a pharmaceutical nature. Derived from the terms ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceuticals’, nutraceuticals are used for their health benefits, including improving health or preventing chronic disease. Usually, these include dietary supplements and herbs. Nutraceuticals are usually derived from food, utilizing the essential vitamin or minerals. Examples include Vitamin D or Vitamin B supplements, and many more.
There is some confusion around whether functional foods and nutraceuticals are one and the same? The short answer is no. While they have similar benefits and have similar reasons for use, they are not the same. The key difference is that functional foods have bioactive compounds that are naturally occurring in the food, whereas nutraceuticals are pills, capsules, or liquids derived from natural substances. The other difference is that when consuming a functional food, you have multiple benefits of not only the bioactive compound making that food functional food but also the other essential nutrients found in that food (such as vitamins, antioxidants). Going back to the example of cranberries – you could consume them specifically for the benefit of improving your UTI, and receive Vitamin C and antioxidants at the same time. When taking nutraceuticals, you are seeking a particular nutrient and taking the supplement to receive that one thing. The benefit of using a supplement is that you can know exactly how much of that nutrient you are receiving.
Overall, both functional foods and nutraceuticals improve health and prevent disease.
According to Mayo Clinic, where possible, it is more beneficial to consume functional foods because they will offer greater nutrition, essential fiber, and various nutrients, such as antioxidants. However, supplements do form a simpler and easier means to ensure you are receiving enough of the particular nutrient needed for optimal health.
At Natural Bio Health, we recommend a combination of both. Eating a healthy diet consisting of healthy food choices will naturally provide you with the benefits of functional foods daily. If you find yourself requiring a particular benefit, such as fortified milk or yogurt, that is beneficial. But if you have specific longer-term needs such as poor sleep or lowered vitamin D, taking a supplement for a set period of time could be advised in order to see the results you are looking for.
From a safety point of view, nutraceuticals/supplements are typically well trusted, even though they are not always approved by authorities. Many clinical trials have been conducted, showing the positive results of using nutraceuticals. However, there is some evidence to suggest that simply buying a number of nutraceuticals and taking them without advice or planning can have negative effects on some people. These nutraceuticals may interact with pharmaceuticals and could be harmful especially to old, young, or chronically ill. The best point of call when viewing your overall health is to have a consultation with a functional medicine provider, who can recommend the best combination and quantities of nutraceuticals, functional foods to best suit your needs.
At Natural Bio Health, we make use of a holistic approach when assessing your unique situation. Our staff is passionate about teaching you to utilize the benefits of the power of healthy lifestyle choices, as well as supplements in combination with any necessary pharmaceutical needs. This way we ensure your overall health and wellbeing are sustained long term. Consider booking a consultation with us today. We have a health store on-site, with many supplements and nutraceutical options for you. Start your wellness journey today.
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