There is currently no agreed definition of a “function food” however it is most commonly referred to as food with enhanced properties consumed to prevent disease and promote health. The market for functional food has been increasing and is now worth around $37 billion. The market is driven by health conscious and wellness seeking consumers who already consume a healthy diet and take supplements. The most commonly cited reasons for consuming functional foods include overall good health, heart health or to contribute to a healthy body weight. A recently published survey in the Journal of American Dietetics Association highlighted the fact that the most recognizable food/health association related to;
Benefits associated with fiber (Kapsak et al June 2011)
Recent EU laws have changed the playing field for products with unsubstantiated claims, therefore ensuring products with sound scientific evidence shine in the market place. On the flip side a lot of the smaller companies would not have access to fund a fully fledged trial and therefore by not being allowed to use a health claim, would have to depend on word-of mouth recommendation by satisfied customers to promote the brand.
It is also interesting to see where knowledge of the use of functional food has increased the most. Since the last IFIC survey in 2007, the biggest increase in consumer knowledge and awareness are outlined below, with the first value reflecting current levels and the second figure % in 2007;
Wholegrains for heart disease (83% vs 72%)
Potassium for heart health (78% vs 64%)
B vitamins for reduced heart disease (78% vs 61%)
Omega -3 fatty acids for cognitive development (72% vs 53%)
Probiotics for maintaining a healthy immune system (71% vs 54%)
Plant sterols for reduced risk of heart disease (45% vs 30%)
So if you take your health seriously and would like to start taking functional foods, below I will outline some tips.
Top tips for starting with functional food products:
Look at your lifestyle and family history to see if there are any common threads for example heart disease, if this is the case, choose 1 food category you can implement quickly into your daily plan for example incorporating stanols into your diet. Stanols from Soya have been scientifically proven to have beneficial effect on heart health.
This can be done easily with the little stanol containing drinks which already contain the daily dose of 2g required and can be easily carried around in your bag or drunk as a shot at breakfast on your way to work. Once that has become a habit and lifestyle change, choose a new health concern or a new product to adopt.
READ THE LABEL AND DO YOUR RESEARCH
New food laws will prevent a lot of food products to make unsubstantiated health claims on labels. However, there is still an overlap period before all products are reviewed. Therefore, make sure that the health concern you are buying it for does not compromise on other qualities for example, if a product claims that it is low in fat (<3g/100g) that it is not high in refined carbohydrates such as sugar (>5g/100g). For more guidelines on reading a label click here. In addition, fruit juices such as pomegranate can have a lot of added sugar and contain very little actual pure Pomegranate.
Also choose a product from a reputable company that has proof of the evidence that backs up the product.
DON´t OVERLOOK THE OBVIOUS
It is sometimes easy to get influenced by clever advertising and sexy packaging, however a lot of foods do not have a label and carry excellent nutritional quality such as Bananas and avocados for Potassium, almonds for monounsaturated fats and plain oats for a great mix of fiber.
ALWAYS THINK OF PREPARATION METHOD
When choosing a functional food product, always make sure that the preparation method either increases bioavailability or preserves it. For example Tomatoes are high in Lycopene, however they are best eaten cooked, therefore if you are in a rush, use canned tomatoes or add a teaspoon of tomato paste to soup,sauce,salad dressing or stew and voila! you have already boosted your intake of Lycopene!
Other tips include; use olive oil unheated, steam your vegetables, do not over cook your fish and eat vegetables with the peels or skins…yes even Butternut
THINK OF THE WIDER PICTURE
New technologies have allowed the incorporation of novel food ingredients to food. For example omega- 3 oils from fish have predominantly been incorporated for the high content of DHA and EPA. Newer resources from algae that produce the long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA will be used in foods that are commonly consumed. These newer resources are more sustainable and pose a smaller risk to global fish reserves, therefore check the source of your omega 3 product.
Whilst we eagerly await the arrival of foods tailored to our genotype to hit the supermarket shelves, be sure to subscribe for regular updates or to contact me if you would like guidance on how to incorporate functional foods into your diet and lifestyle.
Kapsak W et al. Functional Foods: Consumer attitudes, Perceptions and behaviors in a growing market. Journal of the American Dietetic Assoc.June 2011:111;6: 804- 810