A food chain is a way of showing who eats whom in an ecosystem. For example, a spruce tree may get eaten by a deer, which in turn, gets eaten by a wolf. A single food chain illustrates only one part of what happens in an ecosystem.
Consider the following simple food chain with four links or levels. Here we have plankton eaten by capelin, which gets eaten by codfish. Of course, the codfish get eaten by the seals.
What Are Functional Food Chains?
Functional foods are ingredients that offer health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. Some types contain supplements or other additional components designed to improve health. The concept originated in Japan in the 1980s when government agencies started approving foods with proven benefits to better the general population’s health.
Examples Of Functional Food Chain
Functional foods are generally separated into two categories: conventional and modified. Conventional foods are natural, whole-food ingredients rich in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats.
Meanwhile, modified foods have been fortified with additional ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fiber, to increase a food’s health benefits.
Here Are Some Examples Of Conventional Functional Food:
- Fruits: berries, kiwi, pears, peaches, apples, oranges, bananas
- Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, zucchini
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, lentils
- Whole grains: oats, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, couscous
- Seafood: salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, cod
- Fermented foods: tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut
- Herbs and spices: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper
- Beverages: coffee, green tea, black tea
Here Are Some Examples Of Modified Functional Food Chain:
- fortified juices
- fortified dairy products, such as milk and yogurt
- fortified milk alternatives, such as almond, rice, coconut, and cashew milk
- fortified grains, such as bread and pasta
- fortified cereal and granola
- fortified eggs
- Potential benefits
Functional foods are associated with several potential health benefits.
It May Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies
Functional foods are typically high in essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber. Filling your diet with various functional foods, including conventional and fortified foods, can help ensure you get the nutrients you need and protect against nutrient deficiencies.
In fact, since the introduction of fortified foods, the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies has significantly decreased around the globe. For instance, after iron-fortified wheat flour was introduced in Jordan, children’s iron deficiency anemia rates were nearly cut in half.
Fortification has also been used to prevent other conditions caused by nutrient deficiencies, including rickets, goiter, and congenital disabilities.
It May Protects Against Disease
Functional foods provide essential nutrients that can help protect against disease. Many are especially rich in antioxidants. These molecules help neutralize harmful compounds known as free radicals, helping prevent cell damage and certain chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Some functional foods are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy type of fat shown to reduce inflammation, boost brain function, and promote heart health.
Other types are rich in fiber, promoting better blood sugar control and protecting against conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Fiber may also help prevent digestive disorders, including diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, and acid reflux.
May Promote Proper Growth And Development
Certain nutrients are essential to proper growth and development in infants and children. Enjoying a wide range of nutrient-rich functional foods as part of a healthy diet can help ensure that nutritional needs are met. In addition, it can be beneficial to include foods fortified with specific nutrients that are important for growth and development.
For example, cereals, grains, and flour are often fortified with B vitamins like folic acid, which is essential for fetal health.
Low levels of folic acid can increase the risk of neural tube defects, affecting the brain, spinal cord, or spine. It’s estimated that increasing the consumption of folic acid could decrease the prevalence of neural tube defects by 50–70%. Other nutrients commonly found in functional foods also play critical roles in growth and development, including omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12.
Uses For Food Chain
A well-rounded, healthy diet should be rich in functional foods, including nutrient-rich whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These foods supply your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs and support overall health.
Modified, fortified functional foods can also fit into a balanced diet. They can help fill any gaps in your diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies and enhance health by boosting your intake of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart-healthy fats, or probiotics.
The Bottom Line Food Chain
Functional foods are a category of food associated with several powerful health benefits. They can prevent nutrient deficiencies, protect against disease, and promote proper growth and development.
In addition to enjoying a variety of healthy whole foods, you can include more fortified foods in your diet to fill any nutritional gaps and support better health.