Many foods contain functional ingredients that can be used to specifically improve health. Several hundred phytochemicals with medicinal properties have already been identified and classified according to their chemical structure to specific groups of active ingredients. Professor Paul Walter, a biochemist and nutrition expert, says: "Only one in three feeds today, so it makes sense for many to eat foods that are fortified with certain additives."
Plant substances with medicinal action
- Broccoli and other cabbages contain isothiocyanates. These activate detoxifying enzymes in the body and have a cancer-inhibiting effect.
- Soya products contain isoflavones. These are very similar to the body-owning estrogens. Also so-called lignans from grain, berries and flaxseed resemble the estrogen. Isoflavones and lignans have a beneficial effect on hormone-dependent tissue and protect against cancer through their antioxidant action. In addition, they are interesting for a therapy of hormone-dependent osteoporosis.
- Carotenoids give fruits and vegetables the yellow or red color. They should protect the vessels.
- The red tomato dye lycopene, as well as Luthein from spinach and cabbage, seem to reduce the risk of prostate and esophageal cancer.
- Tea, berry and citrus phenols protect the cells from damaging oxidizing substances.
- Vegetable oils contain various phytosterols that are related to the desired cholesterol. In large quantities they effectively reduce blood fat.
- Onions, peppers and wine are rich in flavonoids. Like the catechin of green tea, flavonoids have an antioxidant effect and may strengthen the immune system.
- Selenium and Vitamins C and E are found in many fruits and vegetables. They have an antioxidant effect and thus a positive effect on the immune defense. As a result, they protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Healthy and nutritious
Substances fortified with certain additives include, for example, fiber, vitamins, trace elements, minerals, phytonutrients, or even living microorganisms with beneficial effects on the intestinal flora. Very important is a presentation following the trends and packaging of these foods. Who wants to feed in powder or tablet form or, like the astronauts, literally "out of the tube"? Hardly anyone in the long run.
Snacks and snacks, on the other hand, are becoming more and more widely used in the diet. That is why functional ingredients are also very often integrated into popular food: in bars, drinks, yoghurts, cereal flakes or other products that can be consumed quickly and without additional effort.
Medicine chest or fridge?
A distinction between functional food and pharmaceuticals is difficult. Experts argue that the new foods are really good for your health, or just serve to increase the food industry's revenue. So far, only one thing is really certain: Consumers need to dig deeper into the wallet for functional food.
The trend also drives some interesting flowers: The cholesterol bomb egg was changed by feeding linseed to chickens to omega egg, which now contains essential fatty acids. A spoonful of ground flaxseed a day has the same effect as the new eggs and is much cheaper.
Depending on the additional ingredient, the boundaries between food and medicine are blurred. Some modern functional foods, such as hypoallergenic baby food, are very close to clinical nutrition products (tube feeding). The problem of delimiting food and medicine is likely to increase in the coming years.
The name of the food with added value is already tricky today. Because they must not contain false promises and mislead consumers. Even those who eat so many foods with a beneficial effect on hypertension or atherosclerosis will not be able to protect against a heart attack in extreme obesity or other risk factors.
In Switzerland, indications of the packaging such as "lowers the cholesterol level" or "strengthens the bones" are allowed. Claims for medical effects, so-called "health claims" (examples: "protects against osteoporosis" or "prevents prostate cancer") are strictly prohibited.
The following statements (so-called "claims") for functional foods are discussed in Switzerland:
|nutrient content||Rich in calcium, low in saturated fats|
|Comparative statements||Energy-reduced, reduced fat|
|Healthy eating habits||For example: "Rich in calcium, the Health Authority recommends a daily intake of x grams of calcium."|
|nutrient function||For example, "Rich in calcium, calcium helps build healthy bones."|
|Risiokominderung||For example: "Rich in calcium, a calcium-rich diet can prevent osteoporosis later in life".|
|Therapeutic statements||Any indications of treatment or cure of diseases are prohibited.|
Help, but no substitute
All nutritionists agree on the importance of Functional Food in nutrition. It should be a supplement and not a substitute for a healthy diet. This is confirmed by the Zurich Social and Preventive Medicine Professor Felix Gutzwiller, Prof. Paul Walter from Basel, and Prof. Michael Teuber and Renato Amadò from the Institute of Food Science at ETH Zurich.
Functional or Novel Food is not a magic weapon to solve our nutritional and health problems. But it can be a useful addition.