What Are Nutraceuticals? – Putting the Function in Food

What was that? Nutra…what? Are they animals? Vegetables? Minerals? What ARE nutraceuticals? Funny you should ask…

How Do You Define Nutraceutical?

The guys at Merriam Webster Dictionary define nutraceutical as “a foodstuff that provides health benefits in addition to its basic nutritional value”.

The term was actually invented (coined? Made up?) by Dr Stephen DeFelice in 1989 to describe “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease”.

Dr DeFelice believed that by extracting the parts of food that provide extra benefit beyond nutrition, it could help cure health problems as well, or perhaps even better than, traditional prescription medicine.

He received the 2013 Marconi Science Award for his research into the use of the amino acid carnitine in patients suffering from Primary Carnitine Deficiency as well as it’s promising cardiovascular benefits and positive effects on patients in dialysis.

Dr DeFelice actually started his research into carnitine back in 1965 and has helped give a boost to the market of products we commonly call dietary supplements.

The Rise of Dietary Supplements

Humans have always been on a quest to improve their physical health and/or performance. Back in the B.C. days, warriors and athletes might opt to eat a deer liver or lion heart to promote bravery, speed or strength.

In the early 19th century the discovery that certain diseases could be linked directly to vitamin deficiencies, rather than toxins or infections as had been previously thought, was a huge breakthrough.

This research continued as a new understanding of how protein, fat and carbohydrate affects energy usage began to develop.

The first marketed supplements may have been protein powders used by athletes in the 1940’s to improve their muscle mass and energy levels. This industry has exploded since its inception and continues to be a major player in the supplement market.

In the 1960s and 70s, health food stores selling various supplements began to gain popularity due to the rise of the counterculture movement. Since then, dietary supplements have grown to be a 58 billion dollar industry. (Yes, billion. With a “B”).

Are Dietary Supplements Safe? Are They Effective?

The term nutraceutical has no regulatory definition but is being commonly used in marketing dietary supplements. In addition to this, the supplement industry itself has little to no government regulation.

What does this mean for you?

It means that these companies are under no obligation to prove that their supplements contain what is listed on the label nor to disclose any other ingredients that may be included, whether these additional ingredients are hazardous or not.

Supplements have been found to include very little (or none) of the active ingredient listed and often what is included is of very poor quality. A high percentage of products include animal DNA and/or dangerous chemical contamination.

It also means that the companies that manufacture these products can claim that their products have any benefits that they want as long as they include this disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”.

Many inflate scientific findings by funding their own research and clinical trials. In some cases the claims made by the manufacturers have actually been refuted by the medical and scientific community.

Another problem lies with the consumers themselves.

Because there is no need to obtain a prescription to use dietary supplements, a consumer is free to decide for themselves what product they want to use and in what dosage. And because there is no need to consult a doctor or pharmacist, because anyone can just stroll into and buy them from the clerk standing behind the counter (after getting her to look up from her phone, of course), people assume these products are innocuous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

They can interfere with the effectiveness of prescribed medications, worsen existing conditions or build up in the body, causing toxicity.

Want more information? Check it out here. And here. And here. Be prepared to have your mind blown!

So What’s A Girl To Do?

Good news! You can get all the benefits from dietary supplements in the food you eat! (I mean, seriously, where do you think they got ‘em in the first place?)

A new term called “functional food” is beginning to make the rounds in many health conscious circles.

It’s being used to describe some of the naturally-occurring chemicals, or components, in foods providing health benefits that go beyond nutrition benefits.

For example, an orange is not only rich in vitamin A, D and B6, it also has PMFs to lower cholesterol, fiber to control blood sugar and keep you regular as well as antioxidants to boost the immune system.

For an extensive list of foods and their benefits click here.

Always Choose The Food

The next time you’re can’t sleep or have a belly ache, instead of reaching in the medicine cabinet, try a cup of chamomile tea. Feeling foggy? Have the salmon for lunch. And by golly, grab an apple if you’re having trouble in the bathroom.

 

Always choose the food.

 

All my best,

Cynthia

cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

 

 

14 Replies to “What Are Nutraceuticals? – Putting the Function in Food”

  1. Thank you for putting this out there for people to understand. We are so bad about just grabbing pills to solve our problems. Fortunately, all my doctors asks what supplements I take as well as medicines. I have been working on getting my cholesterol down by eating foods like avocados and nuts.

    I have a question…it’s off topic, but sort of related. Have you looked into these nutrition shakes everyone is so crazy about? I see people check in at these places and my head spins. They think they’re doing a good thing, but in fact they’re just as bad as some of these supplements you mention. Would like to see you write about this topic as well.

    1. Hey, Karen! Thanks for your comments. I’m happy to hear that you have good communication with your doctors. That’s incredibly important! I have not looked into the shakes yet but I’ll do that in the near future.

  2. What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You for sharing this quality post with others.
    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about the nutraceuticals for foods and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in detail.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)

    Thanks!

  3. I had no idea what neutraceuticals were until I was able to read your insightful post. It’s concerning that the supplement industry has low government regulations. I am a huge believer in drawing from nutrients in our foods to boost our health. Real food is ideal in being able to get the nutrients from for the benefit of our health. Thanks for sharing.

  4. The timing of this article couldn’t have been more perfect. I don’t take vitamin supplements at all, but I also don’t get enough vitamins naturally so I’m always being pressured into buy supplements. I usually get the Megafood Blood Builder and a typical hair, nail and skin supplement. Even tried women’s one a day.

    After reading this however, I now want to take natural supplements seriously, it’s really scary when you take a minute to think about toxic build ups from constantly taking the supplements. I do understand that the body needs nutrients so I am grateful for the link to the different foods and their benefits. Will put that to good use.

    Also, thinking about it, if the supplements are made out of what is extracted from food, why aren’t we just buying the food… it’s so much tastier. I’ve gone and confused myself because I’m one of those.. lol but like Karen said, laziness.

    1. I don’t think its laziness but that the industry works hard to make us think we can’t get enough of the nutrients from the foods we eat. Their marketing is clever and convincing so it’s no surprize that we begin to second guess ourselves! Thank you for your comments.

  5. Hi Cynthia,

    great post and so true. people take the quick easy fix of buying supplements and so called nutraceutricals rather than take the time to eat good healthy fruit and vegetables.

    There are very few supplements I recommend as most are full of filler and other rubbishy stuff. Stick to real food. Great advice, cheers, Kev

  6. Great article. There is a lot of important information about nutraceuticals. And I also agree that by eating healthy and balanced we can get the nutrients our body needs.

  7. Dear Cynthia.
    Thank you very much for your fantastic website. It is amazing that you show people where to start and what steps to take towards their healthy living and amazing cooking. I hope more people will know about your website and follow your guidance.
    Kind regards,
    Andrey

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