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What are functional foods?
Functional foods (FFs) are foods that contain nutritional components that go beyond meeting the basic needs of the body, as they contain active compounds that promote health. The achievement of health benefits of FFs is attributed to their content of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, as well as natural plant compounds and other functional chemicals that are present in high concentrations.
Hippocrates was one of the greatest figures in medical history and is considered the founder of preventive medicine. He was dedicated to advancing medicine and improving health through nutrition. He believed in functional nutrition as a dietary philosophy that focuses on natural nutrients and their impact on health and well-being. His phrase "Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food" encapsulates his vision, as he believed that food is the first medicine and that improving the diet can contribute to disease prevention and enhance the healing process. Hippocrates relied on nature and dietary balance to improve health and maintain well-being.
Types of functional foods
Conventional functional foods
These are types of foods that contain natural ingredients with additional health benefits in addition to their basic nutritional value. Conventional functional foods are designed to improve the health of consumers and prevent some diseases or support body functions.
These foods are characterized by containing active ingredients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, and prebiotics, which are considered among a group of factors that are beneficial to human health.
Conventional functional foods are designed in natural ways without the use of chemical additives or genetically modified ingredients, making them a healthy and safe choice for consumption.
Examples of conventional functional foods
Blueberries: Blueberries are a rich source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. Research shows that consuming blueberries can contribute to improving brain function and overall health.
Red beetroot: Red beetroot contains the compound beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body. It contributes to supporting eye health and skin, and helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Garlic: Garlic contains compounds such as allicin and selenium that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and is considered a natural antibiotic. Garlic has many benefits such as strengthening the immune system, improving heart health, and lowering blood pressure.
Honey: Honey is a unique functional food, as it is a natural source of essential nutrients, bee honey contains a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals that support the immune system and contribute to improving body health.
Fortified functional foods
These are types of foods that have been processed or improved by adding additional nutritional components such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and prebiotics. These foods aim to improve the nutritional value of the product and increase the health benefits for the consumer.
Examples of fortified functional foods
Milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D: Calcium and vitamin D are added to milk to improve calcium absorption in the body and promote bone health. These fortified functional foods are especially beneficial for people who need to strengthen their bone structures and contribute to the prevention of osteoporosis.
Enriched bread with fiber: Fiber is added to bread to improve its nutritional value and increase dietary fiber in the diet. Fiber helps to improve digestion and satiety for longer periods of time, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Yogurt fortified with probiotics: Probiotics are added to yogurt to improve the bacterial balance in the digestive system. These functional foods are known to be beneficial for digestive health and strengthening the immune system.
Altered functional foods
These are types of foods that are modified or changed in composition to be free of certain elements that may cause allergies to some people, or be harmful to people with certain food intolerances.
Milk modified for allergy: Milk is modified to be lactose-free, which is the sugar in milk that causes allergies to some people with milk allergy.
Gluten-free foods: Some foods such as bread, cookies, and pasta are processed to be gluten-free, which is a protein that can be harmful to people with gluten allergy or celiac disease.
Dietary supplements: In addition to naturally occurring functional foods, there are also dietary supplements that can provide additional functional components to the body, such as vitamin D and calcium-fortified for strengthening bones and joints.
Benefits of Functional Foods
Many of the health benefits of functional foods are due to their direct effects on the body's organs and functions. Some of these benefits include:
1- Improving heart health: Many types of functional foods contain compounds that help lower levels of LDL cholesterol and improve heart function, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
2- Supporting the immune system: Some functional foods contain antioxidants and vitamins that boost the immune system's activity and protect the body from infection and disease.
3- Improving digestion: Some functional foods promote digestive health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and improving digestion.
4- Preventing cancer: Some functional foods contain natural chemicals that are thought to be effective in preventing the formation of cancer cells.
5- Supporting brain health: Many types of functional foods contain components that promote brain health and improve cognitive function and memory.
6- Reducing the risk of diabetes: Some functional foods contain compounds that help improve the body's glucose tolerance and blood sugar levels, which can reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
Functional Foods in Japanese Traditions
Functional foods have been used traditionally in Japan in cooking and preparation, and are part of Japanese culinary tradition.
Examples of Japanese functional foods:
Soybeans and natto: Soybeans are a good source of plant-based protein, and natto, for example, is a rich source of probiotics, which can help promote digestive health.
Herbs and tea: In Japan, it is common to drink green tea and matcha, and to prepare dishes that contain herbs such as shiitake mushrooms and hakusai leaves (Chinese cabbage). These herbs are a good source of antioxidants, which may help prevent some diseases.
Fish: Fish is an important part of the Japanese diet. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health.
Japan and other countries encourage the consumption of functional foods as part of a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.