If you’ve read the blog posts on Health Trends and Food Trends you’ll have an idea of the way we might be using food to improve our health in the months ahead.
Here we’re going to be finding out about nutraceuticals. Nutraceuticals are foods or bioactive compounds that have nutritional benefits and disease-preventing properties. The term nutraceutical is a compound word from Nutrition and Pharmaceutical. It should be noted that they are not medicines.
Nutraceuticals can be grouped into four categories: dietary supplements, functional foods, medicinal food, and farmaceuticals.
Dietary Supplements – we’re all familiar with these. These are products that contain nutrients that may be concentrated into liquid, capsule, powder, or tablet form.
Functional Foods – these are whole foods and fortified or enhanced dietary components that can be taken as part of the usual diet and that have beneficial effects that may reduce the risk of chronic disease and provide health benefits beyond the nutrients they contain.
Medical Foods – formulated to be consumed, or administered internally, under the supervision of a medical doctor. Medical foods are intended to be used for a specific disease or condition where there are distinct nutritional requirements.
Farmaceuticals – medically valuable components produced from modified agricultural crops or animals. The term is a combination of the words “farm” and “pharmaceuticals.” This development is based on the belief by some people that using crops, and even animals, as pharmaceutical factories is more cost-effective than conventional methods.
Nutraceuticals may contain polyphenols, terpenoids, flavonoids, alkaloids, sterols, pigments, unsaturated fatty-acids, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.
Nutraceuticals and Disease
Over the past few years, nutraceuticals have been increasingly investigated for their potential nutritional and therapeutic effects. Nutraceuticals have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties that may be used to support the immune response, regulate inflammation, improve health, prevent chronic diseases, postpone the ageing process and increase life expectancy.
They have been found to positively affect cardiovascular and immune system health and to reduce susceptibility to infections and cancer (1).
Nutraceuticals and Viral Infections
A compromised immune system is a known risk factor for viral infections such as COVID. Functional foods can be used to optimise the immune system and to prevent and control pathogenic viral infections. Foods with antiviral properties include fruits, vegetables, fermented foods, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds, herbs, roots, fungi and amino acids (2). Physical activity increases the protective effects of these foods.
Examples of Nutraceuticals
Dietary supplements – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics.
Herbal products – garlic (allicin), turmeric (curcumin), ginger, echinacea, ginseng, saffron, sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, liquorice, maca.
Superfoods – these are foods that are naturally high in phytochemicals. They include various mushrooms and fungi, sea vegetables, sprouted foods, red wine, cacao, blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, blackcurrants and citrus fruits.
Enzymes – such as bromelain from pineapple and papain from papaya.
Dietary fibre – inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides, resistant starch, rice bran, oat bran and locust bean gum. These fibres may have an impact on digestive health, the microbiome and blood sugar control.
Hydrolysed protein – this is protein that has been broken down meaning it is easier to digest and utilise. Hydrolysed collagen is one of the most popular of these proteins.
Phytonutrients – such as resveratrol from red wine and peanuts, and lycopene from tomatoes.
Fermented foods – kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tamari.
Nutraceuticals are widely available and safe to use for most people with negligible side effects if used at tried and tested doses.
The possible interaction of nutraceuticals with food and drugs may need to be taken into consideration especially by vulnerable people. Medical advice should be sought in these cases.
1. 2021 Apr 27;26(9):2540. Nutraceuticals: Transformation of Conventional Foods into Health Promoters/Disease Preventers and Safety Considerations. AlAli M et al.
2. 2020 Aug 28;12(9):2633. Antiviral Functional Foods and Exercise Lifestyle Prevention of Coronavirus. Alkhatib A.