Written by: Liza Knill, Wellness Communications Intern, B.Sc. NANS
Functional foods are a hot topic with growing public interest, yet there is a lot of confusion around the meaning of this term. Which foods are considered functional? Which ones are not? Are non-functional foods unhealthy? Are açaí fruits functional? These are all fundamental questions. To answer them, however, we first have to understand the word itself.
With a keen public interest in health optimization and lifestyle, the nutritional science field is growing. New concepts and discoveries develop each day, and it is challenging to keep up. Inevitably, confusion can spread. The difficulty with the term functional food is that there is no universally accepted definition.
Health Canada, Canada's public health department, has proposed an explanation. They state that functional foods appear similar to conventional foods yet demonstrate benefits that exceed standard nutrition. They go beyond preventing nutrient deficiencies instead, helping to reduce chronic diseases. These foods are regulated by Health Canada under the Food and Drug Act; however, the current system is limiting when it comes to health claims.
Looking at some examples might be the best way to understand this description. Salmon and omega-3 enriched eggs both contain healthy fats that are proven to lower blood lipids levels. These foods can potentially help to reduce heart diseases, thus demonstrating functionality.
Does that mean that regular food is non-functional? Or unhealthy? Well, no. A healthy balanced diet requires a variety of nutritional resources. Food is meant to fill you up and appease your hunger. It can also provide taste, texture, hydration, and nutrition. All food is functional in one way or another.
The critical takeaway is to consider each individual's health, lifestyle, genetics, and environmental influences. Each situation is different, and depending on the circumstance, one food may outperform another. For example, functional food that lowers blood lipids may only be effective for those who appear to struggle with clogged arteries.
Now that you have a good understanding of functional foods let's take a more in-depth look at açaí. This fruit contains antioxidants and healthy fats. It is known that a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit can help to reduce specific cancers.
This sparks the question, is açaí considered a functional food? Based on the information above, açaí can possibly contribute to reducing the risk of particular diseases. But, perhaps, only individuals at a high risk of illness will benefit. Or maybe, açaí is only beneficial when accompanied with a healthy diet.
Overall, determining which foods are functional requires multiple considerations. This newfound clarity on the subject can be used when navigating the, at times, overwhelming health food realm. So, what do you think? Is açaí a functional food?
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