Functional foods are foods that go beyond providing calories and basic nutrition to actually improving our health.
They can be whole foods in their natural state or enhanced ones, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The academy points to three main categories of functional foods. First, everyday foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, fish and meat with compounds that provide a higher level of nutrition, such as the probiotics in yoghurt and the antioxidants in berries.
The next are foods enriched or fortified with food compounds like omega-3 fatty acids; and the last are synthesized food ingredients, like prebiotics.
“With many functional foods available in the nearest market, it’s easy to add more of them to your diet. For instance, choose fatty fish (think albacore tuna, salmon, herring as a few examples) for dinner, it’s a functional food because of its natural omega-3s. The monounsaturated fat in olive oil may reduce the risk of heart disease, so it makes the list, too,” said experts at the academy.
They also stated that the value of many functional foods lies in their micronutrients, like the polyphenols that give fruits and vegetables their rich colours.
“Research into many of these substances is still in the early stages, but scientists have already identified more than 8,000 “phyto” or plant-based chemicals.”
“Most fruits and vegetables have numerous ones, but research has yet to unravel what specific combinations make them so good for you. So, until researchers learn more, eat fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow to get the widest array of nutrients,” they recommend.