| || “Functional foods were first introduced in Japan in the 1980s,” says Ava Duering, competitiveness analyst, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF), Edmonton. “Functional foods contain bioactive food compounds or physiologically active nutrients and non-nutrients. While there is no legal definition for functional foods, a common definition is that a functional food provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition.”
While there are many types of functional food ingredients, four that are often added to food products are protein, vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
“Protein, has many functions,” says Duering. “It assists with sustained energy, athletic performance and recovery, staves off loss of muscle mass associated with aging, helps with weight loss and management, curbing appetite and promoting satiety.”
Protein is found in meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, grains, legumes, pulses, leafy green vegetables, and microalgae which has recently been added to manufactured food products such as alfredo sauce and brioche made with high lipid whole algal flour instead of the usual butter and eggs.
“Vitamin D is naturally found in fish and shellfish and helps with bone growth, modulates cell growth and has a role in neuromuscular and immune function and reduces inflammation. Vitamin D is sometimes added to food products such as fluid milk, yogurt, cheese, orange juice, breakfast cereals, and grain products.”
Magnesium is naturally found in nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes. “Magnesium works as a cofactor critical to vitamin D activity, to regulate protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose regulation and blood pressure regulation,” says Duering. “It plays a role in bone development and in the transport of calcium and potassium ions across cells which is important for nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction and normal heart rhythm.”
Magnesium is sometimes added to food products such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, supplement bars and beverages.
“Omega-3 fatty acids benefit broadly relate to heart, brain and eye health along with supporting the nervous system and having anti-cancer properties,” says Duering. “Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally found in fish oils and are sometimes added to food products such as cereals and bars, enriched beef and bacon, and eggs.”
For further information go to Consumer Corner on AF’s webpage.