Foods with Unique Health Benefits

Foods with Unique Health Benefits

Foods that provide a specific health benefit and beyond their inherent nutritional value are termed as functional foods. Functional food as a term in new but in the strict sense of its definition has been around a long time.

Decades ago the food industry recognized the potential value (and profits) in adding nutrients to various foods. Milk is fortified with vitamin D, cereals are enriched with vitamins and minerals, salt is fortified with iodine, and iron is added to many breads. In a technical sense, these foods meet the definition of functional foods. More recent additions to the supermarket shelves include orange juice with added calcium, grain products fortified with folate, pasta enriched with soluble fiber, eggs fortified with omega – 3 fatty acids, and juices with added antioxidants.

The growing interest In functional foods has been sparked by the publicized health benefits of phytochemicals, soy, for example, contains isoflavones that may protect against heart disease; tea contains antioxidants that may reduce the risk of cancer; cranberry juice is made up of substances that may help prevent urinary tract infections. When foods such as these are consumed primarily for their purported medicinal value, they are considered functional.

Today’s supermarket are full of functional foods and give the illusion that the grocery store almost looks like a drugstore. In some cases the benefits of functional foods are welcome. Non-milk drinkers will likely benefit from orange juice fortified with calcium. In other cases, problems may occur. Experts don’t know if juices fortified with the herb Echinacea are safe or might interact adversely with other medications. The problem with functional foods, as summarized by the editor of a leading health newsletter, arises when functional foods have not been adequately tested to make sure they are safe; when the health claims are based on little or no evidence; when only a trivial amount of a beneficial ingredient is added; or when people replace healthy foods with fortified candy bars, chips, and sodas.

Eating a variety is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. The only sure way to realize the benefits of various nutrients is to eat a variety of foods. No single nutrients or food can supply all of the essential nutrients in the right proportions needed by the body. Variety is the essence of a healthy diet and may be the only practical way of making sure you’re getting the full healthful effects of various nutrients.
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