Everything You Need to Know About Functional Foods

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

Daria Piazza, MS, RD; The Functional Medicine Centers (FxMed Centers)

What are Functional Foods?

Functional foods are foods or food products perceived to optimize the health and well-being of humans through the prevention, reduction, or management of chronic disease and other conditions. Growing scientific evidence attributes these benefits to bioactive compounds found within functional foods. Bioactive compounds are defined as ingredients that provide changes in health status, other than what is necessary to meet basic human nutritional needs.

Also known as nutraceuticals, functional foods exist as supplements meant to be consumed in conjunction with a well-balanced diet. Conversely, they exist as whole food sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and other fiber-rich plants. A number of bioactive compounds have been identified and researched. Examples include minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals such as flavonoids and polyphenols.

While the official term was first coined in Japan during the 1980s, the application of functional foods dates back thousands of years.4 With growing popularity in recent years, the functional food market size was valued at $177.77 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $267.92 billion by 2027.

Benefits of Functional Foods

In 2018, more than half (51.8%) of adults in the United States suffered from at least 1 chronic disease and 27.2% had more than two.6 With the prevalence of chronic disease, consumers are proactively looking to food and nutrition to support and optimize health. Research suggests that consistent intake of functional foods is associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases.

While not an exhaustive list, this includes cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity.1,7Some functional foods are believed to facilitate hormone regulation and insulin sensitivity. A comparative study evaluated the effects of cinnamon, ginger and metformin in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Results illustrate that cinnamon supplementation significantly reduced insulin resistance indicator, HOMA-IR scores, while ginger was found to decrease follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone levels. There was no difference observed in reducing HOMA-IR between cinnamon and metformin, a common prescription forthe treatment of PCOS and high blood sugar. These findings suggest the efficacy of functional foods in improving insulin sensitivity and hormone status through diet.

Incorporating Functional Foods in Your Diet

The effectiveness of supplements is greatly dependent on the quality of overall dietary patterns. However, incorporating more functional foods through diet is a lot easier than you think. In fact, it’s likely that many of these foods already make up a portion of your diet, since bioactive compounds are found in commonly eaten plant-foods as well as animal products. Consider the tips below to reap the benefits:

1. Fill at least half of your plate with fiber-rich plant foodsPlant foods, like fruits and vegetables, are rich in bioactive compounds such as dietary fiber, polyphenols, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals. Naturally, fruits and vegetables are made up of different nutrients and bioactive compounds. By incorporating plant foods more regularly, you optimize your intake of health-promoting nutrients from a variety of sources.

2. Choose a variety of foodsFruits and vegetables, considered carbohydrates, may provide significant sources ofbioactive compounds, but variety from all food groups is key. Choose a variety of foods from different food groups, including nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, grains, dairy and animal protein.

3. Build satisfying, balanced mealsStructure meals in a way that includes all three macronutrients:– Fiber-rich carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables & grains– High quality protein sources, such as lean chicken, turkey or legumes– Healthy fat sources such as olive oil, avocado, nuts & seeds

Nutrients from different food groups may work together synergistically, enhancing thedigestion and absorption of nutrients to be used by the human body. This meal structure also helps keep blood sugar levels stable and promotes satiation to keep you feeling fuller between meals.

If you are struggling to get to the bottom of your health concerns and are ready for a root cause approach to finally feel your best, contact The Functional Medicine Center for Personalized Care, LLC (www.FxMedCenters.com) at 201-880-8247 or Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678 for our Integrative Mind-Body Health services and set up an appointment with our Functional Nutrition Dietitian.

Here is a list of Functional Foods & Bioactive Components to maintain optimum health:

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