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Using functional foods to fight disease

by Tanya Kwiez |

Functional foods have become a topic of considerable interest in nutritional science and health promotion. Functional foods are foods that offer health benefits to the consumer beyond their nutritional value, often these benefits are related to the treatment or prevention of disease (1). The term was first used in the 1980s in Japan, where there is a specialised government approval process for functional foods that is called Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU) (2). 


What are Functional Foods?

In addition to natural nutrient-rich such as vegetables and fruits, the category of functional foods also includes foods that have been fortified with vitamins, minerals, fibre and probiotics. Often the existing ingredients in the food (or even new ingredients) are increased or added to boost the potential health benefit. These foods can also be “designed” to have specific traits purposely bred into existing plants, for example such as gold, red or purple potatoes that have an enhanced amount of the beneficial plant chemicals called carotenoids and anthocyanins (3). 


Examples of functional foods:



Basic food

Carrots, sweet potato, broccoli (all naturally contain the antioxidant beta-carotene)

Processed foods

Oat bran cereal (naturally contains high levels of the soluble fibers called beta glucans)

Processed foods with added ingredients

Calcium-enriched fruit juice

Yogurt with added probiotics

Vitamin enriched cereals

Food enhanced to have more of a functional component

Tomatoes with a higher levels of lycopene




Benefits of functional foods

The main benefit of consuming more functional foods is that they have shown to benefit overall health and well-being as well as providing possible prevention from disease or a pathologic condition. Functional foods may help to fight disease in different ways, and it is dependent on the unique plant compounds each functional food contains.

Some of the main benefits from functional food benefits include:

  • Reduced inflammation.
  • Increased micronutrient intake including essential vitamins and minerals
  • Increased antioxidant intake (such as carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, anthocyanin and polyphenols) that help protect the body’s cells.
  • Reduced risk of some diseases (cardiovascular diseases, neurological conditions, cancer or depression).
  • Enhanced immune function (reduced microbes and pathogenic organisms)
  • Improved gut health. E.g., Consuming live bacteria (probiotics) that enhance the function of the gastrointestinal system.
  • Providing unique nutrient compounds such as “prebiotics” that feed probiotics.


Top functional foods

Our top functional foods list would include: 

  • Green foods: sea vegetables (chlorella and spirulina) and grasses (barley grass, wheatgrass. Green foods are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
  • Fibre foods: fresh vegetables and fruits, pseudo cereals (quinoa), whole grains, legumes (lentils, navy beans, black beans, mung beans), nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, flax, chia, hemp, walnuts).
  • Antioxidant foods: berries (acai, goji, blueberries, goji, raspberries, cranberries), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Bok choy).
  • Probiotic containing foods: fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi).
  • Prebiotic containing foods: asparagus, artichoke, bananas, beans, garlic, grains like oatmeal and many other plant foods, leaks, onions, potatoes.) 
  • Teas, herbs and spices: green and black tea, ginger, turmeric, basil cinnamon, etc., all contain beneficial antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. Herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory and often antimicrobial actions. Coffee, red wine and dark chocolate/cocoa contain beneficial plant nutrients so can also be considered functional foods. 


Activated Nutrients range

Activated Nutrients formulate premium organic plant-based supplements containing an abundance of natural functional foods. The nutrient-rich wholefoods deliver plant-derived vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants alongside enzymes, prebiotic fibres and probiotics that may boost energy production, support the immune and digestive systems and help to boost general wellbeing. The ingredients in our products are grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals or fertilisers and are free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and irradiation.



1. P, S.; T, U.; S, C.; K, A, (2020). Discover The Potential of Functional Foods. AgroScience Today;1, 0001-0004.

2. "FOSHU, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan". Government of Japan.
3. Sampaio, SL, (2020). Developing novel functional food formulations from natural sources of bioactives: quinoa, amaranth and potatoes, University of Salamanca, accessed 11/1/2022, available at:
4. Arvanitoyannis IS, Van Houwelingen-Koukaliaroglou M (2005). Functional foods: a survey of health claims, pros and cons, and current legislation. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr;45, 385–404.