Nutraceuticals are foods which provides some medical or health benefit in addition to its basic nutritional value. This would include fortified and enhanced foods, dietary and nutritional supplements and fruits and vegetables.
These foods and products are also called functional foods, indicating that they may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.
The term Nutraceutical is a combination of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical, and was coined in 1989.
Traditional Nutraceuticals are natural foods that we now know are just plain healthy for you. The foods themselves have not changed, just our knowledge of their potential health benefits. These would include fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and nuts. For example, tomatoes contain lycopene, salmon has omega-3 fatty acids and soy has saponins.
Non-traditional Nutraceuticals are enhanced or altered foods that are the product of either agricultural breeding or added nutrients. Examples would be beta-carotene enriched rice, vitamin enhanced broccoli and soybeans, calcium enriched orange juice and cereals with minerals and vitamins added.
Some examples of Nutraceuticals and their potential health benefits:
Beta-carotene - found in carrots & fruits - may neutralize free radicals/antioxidant
Lycopene - found in tomatoes - may maintain prostate health
Dietary fiber - found in wheat bran - may maintain healthy digestive tract & prevent cancer
Fatty acids - found in tree nuts - may reduce risk of heart disease
Flavonoids - found in onions, apples, tea & broccoli - may neutralize free radicals/antioxidant
Isothiocyanates - found in cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, horseradish - may neutralize free radicals/antioxidant
Phenols - found in apples, pears, citrus fruits, & some vegetables - may neutralize free radicals/antioxidant
Plant stanols/sterols - found in some fortified foods & dietary supplement - may reduce risk of heart disease
Polyols - found in some chewing gum - may reduce risk of dental cavities
Prebiotics/Probiotics - found in yogurt - may maintain gastrointestinal health & enhance immune function
Phytoestrogens - found in soybeans - may maintain bone health & enhance immune function
Soy protein - found in soybeans - may reduce heart disease
Sulfides/Thiols - found in cruciferous vegetables- may enhance immune function
Potassium - may reduce blood pressure
Calcium - may prevent osteoporosis
Folic acid - may prevent birth defects
Navigating and understanding the various claims of health benefits of foods, nutraceuticals, supplements and organic foods is challenging for a physician or nutritionist, let alone a patient or a consumer.
Some claims are self explanatory, like low fat, high fiber, low salt and low calorie. Most are far more complicated and attempt to show a relationship between a nutrient and a health benefit.
If a claimed benefit sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A consumer would be well advised to not believe everything they read. Some supplements can have harmful effects, like ephedrine which was widely used in weight loss products.
We believe that the sound and balanced addition of Nutraceuticals to your diet can have substantial positive health benefits for most patients.
Some patients may be content eating less red meat and more fruits and vegetables. Others may want a more formal approach that includes a diet rich in healthy foods and Nutraceuticals that is specifically tailored to their individual needs.
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