Functional Food: What is it and Why is it Important?

Everchanging trends in food and eating have a direct impact on our health. The job of government health organizations is to continue to fight diseases that are common in modern society.  A study in 2010 cautioned on increasing food additives and preservatives and new components. There’s never been a better time to eat foods in their most natural states, especially when it comes to sugar, fats and carbohydrates.

What is Functional Food?

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say that there is no solid definition for the term, although other organizations and groups tend to define it as whole foods that are fortified or enriched with other nutrients. According to the NCBI, food fortification first began in the 20s when iodine was added to salt in an effort to help thyroid and goiter problems.

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What are wholefoods?

Whole foods are foods that are unrefined and unprocessed.  Brown rice (including the husk) is a wholefood, as opposed to white rice.  It’s quite common to see whole-wheat bread or pasta on the supermarket shelves.  These items tend to be even less processed when they come from small local bakers and organic shops. Of course, even by cooking food you are processing it, but the idea is that it comes as close to the original state as possible. Grains and pulses are some most popular whole foods with dairy, cereals and coffee following just behind.

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Which foods are more likely to be enriched, and why?


Under mandatory laws in the US, cereal grains are enriched with folic acid. According to NCIB, since 1991 both the Public Health Service and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention proposed that it was imperative for women planning pregnancy to supplement with folic acid, to lower chances of embryo disfunction. Of course, you can’t force women to supplement, and what about an unplanned pregnancy? While it may seem little totalitarian, enriching everyday food with folic acid to lower the risk of neural tube defects in pregnant women. Health central claim that there are ongoing concerns that the general public may be inadvertently overexposed to folate because of grain fortification.


Although Niacin (vitamin B) is commonly found in meat, fish and vegetables, our bread has been enriched with it since the late 30s.  Lack of niacin was reportedly a common deficiency in poorer areas of the US where foods with naturally occurring niacin were not so easily obtained.

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In recent years, the medical community has given much more attention to Vitamin D and its effects claiming that even Countries with more sunlight have low levels in vitamin D.  Lack of this vitamin can cause osteo problems in both adults and children.  Milk is also commonly enriched with vitamin A; however, one glass of milk will only give you approximately 10% of your daily intake. You can find vitamin A in foods like egg, oranges, fatty fish, and veg such as broccoli, spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes.

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Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

The Mayo Clinic says that functional foods will enhance your wellbeing by optimizing nutrient levels. If you’re in optimal health, you are far more likely to have the ability to fight off illness of any type. However, many nutrients that are added to our everyday foods are also naturally occurring in wholefood, particularly fruit and veg.  Ultimately, moderation is key, even with vitamins and minerals that are not naturally occurring in our bodies. Remember, whole foods and fruit and veg are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals too, so keeping a balanced diet with minimal processed food and maximum fruit and veg, may be the key to great health!

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