Functional Foods

functional food: food whose health benefits are claimed to be higher than those traditionally assumed for similar types of foods nutrition: the maintenance of health through proper eating, or the study of same fiber: indigestible plant material that aids digestion by providing bulk calcium: mineral essential for bones and teeth

Functional foods are foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition due to certain physiologically active components, which may or may not have been manipulated or modified to enhance their bioactivity. These foods may help prevent disease, reduce the risk of developing disease, or enhance health. Consumer interest in functional foods increased during the late twentieth century as people's interest in achieving and maintaining good health increased. Health-conscious consumers have become aware of the health benefits associated with specific foods and are incorporating elements such as fiber, calcium, and soy into their diets. Rapid advances in food science and technology, an aging population, the rapid rise in health care costs,

By feeding their hens a modified diet, some farms have increased the amount of omega-3 in the eggs they sell. These eggs are considered to be functional food because their higher omega-3 content can improve the health of consumers whose diets are deficient in that fatty acid. [Photograph by Eric Risberg. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.]

By feeding their hens a modified diet, some farms have increased the amount of omega-3 in the eggs they sell. These eggs are considered to be functional food because their higher omega-3 content can improve the health of consumers whose diets are deficient in that fatty acid. [Photograph by Eric Risberg. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.]

and changing government marketing and labeling regulations have also had an impact on the functional foods market.

There is a difference between the Western and Eastern perspective on functional foods. In the West, functional foods are considered revolutionary and represent a rapidly growing segment of the food industry. Food and pharmaceutical companies alike are competing to bring functional foods into the mass market. On the other hand, functional foods have been a part of Eastern cultures for centuries. Foods were used for medicinal purposes in traditional Chinese medicine as early as 1000 B.C.E. From ancient times, the Chinese have used foods for both preventive and therapeutic health effects, a view that is now being increasingly recognized around the world.

Clearly, most foods are functional in some way. What makes a "functional food," however, is its potential ability to positively affect health. Functional foods range from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are naturally high in phytochemicals, to products in which a specific ingredient is added, removed, increased, or decreased. Examples of functional foods include soy, oats, flaxseed, grape juice, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, phytosterol/stanol-enriched margarine, eggs enhanced with omega-3 fatty acids, foods fortified with herbal preparations, and psyllium.

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