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Posts Tagged ‘Functional food’


Benefits of Functional Foods in Nutrient Imbalance of Vulnerable Populations

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

There are clear distinctions between a food and a drug. Nutraceuticals, however, occupy a place between the two. Nutraceuticals are naturally derived phytochemicals with potential health benefits and without the characteristics of being essential nutrients. Foods that contain these non-essential substances with potential health benefits may qualify as “functional foods.” As defined by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, the term functional food refers to foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Examples of these are

  • psyllium seeds (soluble fiber),
  • soy foods (isoflavones),
  • cranberry juice (proanthocyanidins),
  • purple grape juice (resveratrol),
  • tomatoes (lycopene), and
  • green tea (catechins).

The bioactive components of functional foods:

  • flavonols,
  • monomeric and polymeric flavan-3-ols,
  • highly coloured anthocyanins, and
  • phenolic acids

may be increased in or added to traditional foods. An example is a genetically modified tomato high in lycopene, which has potent antioxidant capabilities.

The risk of nutrient imbalance is highest in vulnerable populations unable to access essential or conditionally essential nutrients. To a large extent, the

  • very young and the
  • frail elderly

are the select groups who might benefit most from alleviating this risk. The lack of adequate nutrition may be due to seasonal and unexpected losses of agricultural produce; however, poverty is a factor on a global scale as a result of growing economic disparities. The question then becomes what role functional foods offer to improve recognized population nutritional deficiencies. The range of work being done on functional foods is impressive, from

  • modified oils that contain heart-healthy ω-3 fatty acids to
  • cassava plants developed with an increased protein content to help counter malnutrition in developing nations.

However, the nutraceutical industry has responded to and relies on the untested expectations of the healthiest members of the world’s population rather than its more vulnerable ones. Due largely to economic causes, those in need are less likely to receive the benefits of nutraceuticals from whole foods or from manufactured foods or supplements. This is particularly striking where the source is locally available and extracted for commerce but is unaffordable or unavailable to the native population.

The rapid advances in biotechnology and functional foods confront us with a need to address the benefits of these with regard to improving health and managing or decreasing disease risks. Conventional dietary recommendations have focused on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, a decreased sugar intake, and an emphasis on plant oils, recommendations that have unproved benefits for the prevention of chronic diseases and that have complexities involving individual, environmental, and genetic influences.

Although the potential benefits of phytochemicals could have an impact on health status for vulnerable populations, the recommendations focused on plant foods do not address the primary concerns of the undernutrition associated with a poor quality of protein intake. Taken individually, plant sources do not provide a balanced amino acid profile necessary for protein synthesis, being deficient in lysine and/or methionine. Animal sources of protein, specifically meat and fish, also provide essential fatty acids not found in plant sources of protein and that may be otherwise limited. In addition, plants may contain antinutritional factors (wheat, cassava roots, cabbages, soy beans), and plant-based diets may be deficient in important essential nutrients.

Programs must focus on the sustainable production and local processing of indigenous products that can be used by needy populations to improve their nutritional intake and enhance economic stability. In addition, dietary recommendations must not exclude important sources of nutrition for more vulnerable populations by focusing primarily on plant-based sources of food, decreasing saturated fat, and de-emphasizing the importance of high-value biologic protein. The global economic crisis has touched the lives of 80% of the population in most developing countries with a threat to the development of a generation of children (approximately 250 million) who are most vulnerable in the first 2 years of life. An investment in nutrition in this circumstance has a high value, and the use of complementary food supplements to increase a meal’s nutrient content is warranted.

A recent proposal has concluded there are health benefits for foods and food constituents put together in a synergic diet pattern, suggesting that the interrelation between constituents within whole foods is significant, and has recommended dietary variety and the selection of nutrient-rich foods. Providing vulnerable populations with an adequate supply of whole foods should take precedence over the recommendation of food products in supplying not only essential macro- and micronutrients and energy but also phytochemicals whose value to the human diet is still to be determined.

Source References:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0899900711003133

 

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