Functional foods: what you need to know

Did you know that certain foods or food components may provide health and wellness benefits? These foods, also known as “functional foods,” may play a role in improving overall well-being and reducing or minimizing the risk of certain diseases and other health conditions [1]. Functional foods are sometimes defined as “foods with benefits beyond basic nutrition” because they contain healthful components associated with specific health benefits beyond the basic macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). Examples include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and some types of seafood. By knowing which foods can provide specific health benefits, you can make food and beverage choices that allow you to take greater control of your health.

The IFIC Functional Foods Survey has been trending Americans’ attitudes towards health-promoting foods for many years, and the 2013 survey confirmed that people are aware that these foods exist and are interested in learning more. The majority of Americans also believe they are not getting all of the nutrients and food components needed for good health in their diet. As you can see from the image below, there is quite a discrepancy between what nutrients Americans think they are getting in their diet versus what they are actually consuming. Foods that contain healthful components can help fill the nutrient gaps in your diet.

Functional foods
So what foods should you look for to meet nutrient needs and improve overall health? The best advice is to include a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, etc as recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and [2], which would provide many potentially beneficial components. You can find a full chart of all the functional components in food and their associated health benefits on the IFIC website. Stay tuned for more articles on specific components such as probiotics and antioxidants, including why you should eat them, where to find them, and how much to eat.

[1] Position of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Functional Foods
[2] Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010