Functional Foods: The Power of Probiotics
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There is no doubt that the area of health and wellness has exploded since the pandemic. Canadians are increasingly thinking of preventative ways to take control of their health and are seeking foods and beverages that do just that. These include products that may support immune health, heart health, healthy bones and joints or improve energy, and of course, those that promote digestive heath.
Consuming “functional foods” has become a trendy approach that people consider when it comes to improving their diet and health.
So what are functional foods?
To start, there is no consensus on the definition of functional foods. Health Canada has proposed the definition of a functional food as being “similar in appearance to, or may be, a conventional food, is consumed as part of a usual diet, and is demonstrated to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions”1. As such, there are actually no products that can be formally acknowledged as functional foods under the Canadian regulations. Nonetheless, there are foods which speak to the concept of functional foods – which are foods that have benefits to an individual’s health and well-being beyond basic nutrition.
Some examples of functional food components include fibres like coarse wheat bran and psyllium which both help with bowel regularity, as well as probiotics which contribute to healthy gut microbiota2.
Foods with Probiotics
Probiotic foods can be considered functional foods because they provide health benefits beyond their traditional nutritional function.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”3
The Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products provides information on different functional foods with added probiotics, such as probiotic yogurt. It’s important to remember that not all yogurts qualify as probiotic yogurts. It will be clearly indicated on the label of the product if it is probiotic. Products should display each strain’s designation, though some probiotics sold on the market may also use a simplified trademarked name instead.
Moreover, not all fermented foods are probiotic foods, even if they do contain live microorganisms. For instance, there is a common misconception that foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha provide probiotics, but this is not the case. These foods may contain live cultures, but do not meet the definition of a probiotic. Probiotic foods need to contain specific strains of microbes with scientifically proven health benefits, and they should be present in adequate amounts in the product.
For more information on the difference between probiotics and fermented foods, read the article or watch the video.
This article was made possible due to an unrestricted educational grant from Activia.
- Health Canada. 2002. Policy Paper – Nutraceuticals/Functional foods and health claims on foods.
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2019. Health claims on food labels – Function claims.
- Hill C et al. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014;11(8):506-514.