Over the past few decades, superfoods have become a marketing success story. The word ‘superfoods’ have been liberally used to promote healthy food products, but often people aren’t entirely sure what it means. New scientific research has confirmed the potentially beneficial properties of these superfoods.
‘Functional’ foods are also gaining popularity and consumers are beginning to get a deeper understanding of the importance of food in terms of health benefits beyond that of the traditional view of nutrients, i.e. macro-protein, micro-vitamins, carbs, fats and minerals. Today the functional food market has become huge, and there is a series of products labelled as ‘functional food’ available in the supermarket.
Scientists are trying to understand how things like antioxidants, polyphenols, probiotics and essential fatty acids can promote optimal well-being by helping prevent disease, by preventing inflammation and promoting function from the gut, liver, heart, brain and immune system.
What exactly are Superfoods?
There isn’t really an exact definition of ‘superfoods’. Conceptually, superfoods are high in nutritional value due to all of the nutrients in them. Really, the term ‘superfood’ is a marketing term more than anything. Any non-processed food that is packed with nutrients can qualify as a superfood.
According to studies, the most essential components of superfoods are polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω-3, ω-6), antioxidants, probiotic microorganisms, polysaccharides, essential amino acids, and various enzymes. Research data suggests that superfoods are an excellent option to boost the immune system, improve the overall health, increase the production of serotonin and other hormones, but only when they are included in a balanced diet and consumed in moderation.
Tea has been classified as a superfood by many scientists because of the intense antioxidant activity it generates within the human body. The main antioxidant mechanism of tea (through something called polyphenols) in the body is the elimination of free radicals. Both green tea and black tea are equally great for this. Blueberries are classified as superfoods, along with pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, goji berry, acai berries, and grapes. Nuts and legumes like chickpeas, walnuts and almonds would be considered superfoods and vegetables like sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, seaweed, spirulina, chlorella, kefir, and ginger are as well.
What are Functional Foods?
Unlike superfoods, the ‘functional food’ classification is based on scientific studies. These foods contribute to important biological functions within the human body. These foods provide additional benefits other than their basic nutritional value, and can be natural or artificial food. They are whole foods with complex and nutrient-rich composition. They play an essential role in the prevention of degenerative diseases and overall health promotion. The bioactive ingredients in functional foods have specific biological properties and have an excellent effect on the human body. Some examples of processed functional foods are calcium in enriched milk, juices enriched with ω-3 fatty acids, natural yogurt with probiotic organisms and phytosterol-enriched margarine.
Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor at Tufts University, spoke about the future of functional foods:
“I think the future of functional foods is very bright. The more we learn about nutrition science, about how the components in our diets and in our dietary patterns promote health and physiologic function or reduce our risk for common chronic diseases, we’re going to see more and more functional foods being formulated and more dietary guidelines based on the functionality of foods.”
Functional foods: the new ‘superfoods’
It truly is a challenge to shop for groceries in supermarkets today. The labeling of foods items currently are full of beautiful packaging that lures consumers to buy them. But it solely depends on the dietary habits of an individual throughout the day.
These terminologies lead consumers to think they should buy either superfood or a functional food or a mix of both. In the end, consumers need to eat mindfully to take advantage of the health benefits of both food categories. So if you are keen on keeping the ‘super’ in superfoods or the functionality in ‘functional’ foods alive, you must incorporate a variety of these food choices in your daily healthy diet – along with an active lifestyle.