The World's Best Functional Food?


Watching the "Pirates of the Caribbean 4 - On Stranger Tides" this weekend with my children reminded me that pursing a "fountain of youth" is a timeless tale that plays out in our lives in many ways. For example, you see this everyday in our grocery stores, in the form of "functional foods."

Cereals promise to lower your cholesterol, milk to improve brain function, vitamin-enhanced water to boost your immune system. Not surprisingly, it is a big business - US sales in 2009 exceeded $37 billion. Manufacturers have become adept at tip toeing towards the point at which their product must be labeled for "medical" use that would require strict regulation and a physician's supervision, without ever crossing the line.

Attaching scientific and medical claims on food products seems to be more and more appealing to an aging population, often accepting the supposed added benefits with blind faith. The Federal Trade Commission, however, has pushed back by filing deceptive marketing complaints against companies such as Kellogg and Dannon.

Functional foods are generating increasing interest from researchers far and wide. This August, the University of San Diego will be hosting the 9th International Conference on "Functional Food Components in Health and Disease." Here's a sample of seminar topics; many of these may be familiar to you from recent grocery shopping:

Functional Food Components: source and potential benefits in health

â¢Fatty Acids: functional food components, source, potential benefits

â¢Omega-3s(α-linolenic acid-ALA, eicosapentaenoic acid -EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid - DHA), for Chronic Diseases

â¢Prebiotics and Probiotics: functional components, source, potential benefits

â¢Plant Sterols: functional components, source, potential benefits

â¢Phenolics: functional components, source, potential benefits

â¢Dietary Fibers: functional components, source, potential benefits

â¢Carotenoids: functional components, source, potential benefits

â¢Phytoestrogens: functional components, source, potential benefits

â¢Encapsulation of Functional Food Components, bioavailability, target delivery, monitoring potential benefits

Functional Food Components and Chronic Diseases:

â¢Functional Food Components and Obesity

â¢Functional Food Components and Diabetes

â¢Functional Food Components and Cardiovascular Disorders

â¢Functional Food Components and Cancer

â¢Nutritional Prevention of Neurodegenerative Diseases (Vitamin D3, Curcuminoids, Omega-3).

â¢Functional Food Components and other Chronic Diseases

â¢Amino-Acid therapy for Reward Deficiency Syndrome( addiction)

Let's step back for a moment and consider something that could be the world's best functional food. This item boasts the following benefits (not an inclusive list):

Can you guess what it is? Imagine these claims are featured prominently on its label in the store.

Reduces risk of, but does not cure, sinus and bladder infections!

Staves off the common cold and flu!

Lubricates joints!

Makes minerals and other nutrients more accessible to the body!

Regulates body temperature!

Extends physical endurance!

It is the centerpiece of the new Disney film, "Pirates of the Caribbean 4 - On Stranger Tides."

Here's a hint: Referred to in the film as "aqua de vita," it has zero calories. Yes, the world's best "functional food" item could indeed be water - it need not have the magical properties attributed to Ponce de León's "Fountain of Youth" with the required drop of a mermaid's tear.

Most, if not all, of these benefits can be enjoyed by drinking eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day, referred to as the "8 by 8" rule by the Mayo Clinic. And the best part - you need not purchase it at the store - you can draw upon any faucet.

A version of this commentary was published in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times (May 22) in response to "Foods With Benefits, or So They Say."


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Conclusions about this are not so definitive or so simple. Here's more detail, from the Mayo Clinic website referenced in my article:

How much water do you need?

Every day you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water.

So how much water does the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate need? In general, doctors recommend 8 or 9 cups. Here are the most common ways of calculating that amount:

* Replacement approach. The average urine output for adults is about 1.5 liters (6.3 cups) a day. You lose close to an additional liter (about 4 cups) of water a day through breathing, sweating and bowel movements. Food usually accounts for 20 percent of your total fluid intake, so if you consume 2 liters of water or other beverages a day (a little more than 8 cups) along with your normal diet, you will typically replace your lost fluids.
* Eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Another approach to water intake is the "8 x 8 rule" â drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day (about 1.9 liters). The rule could also be stated, "Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day," as all fluids count toward the daily total. Although the approach really isn't supported by scientific evidence, many people use this easy-to-remember rule as a guideline for how much water and other fluids to drink.
* Dietary recommendations. The Institute of Medicine advises that men consume roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and women consume 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.

Even apart from the above approaches, if you drink enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty and produce 1.5 liters (6.3 cups) or more of colorless or slightly yellow urine a day, your fluid intake is probably adequate. If you're concerned about your fluid intake, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can help you determine the amount of water that's best for you.

I thought that even the "8 by 8" rule had been shown to be completely unsupported by scientific evidence.

Almost correct. It's only very weakly supported, certainly not enough to justify how the strength of recommendations made by Mayo.

Omega-3s for chronic diseases: About 12 years ago, trials like GISSI pointed to decent CV benefits. I dig around for new trials and meta-analyses on EPA, etc every now and then, but don't really see much that inspires confidence.
Have any claims for any of the Omega 3s held up over the years via multiple trials or very large trials?

Thank you for sharing something of so obvious importance that it is lost to many in the West who prefer coffee and soft drinks to rehydrate. Ask some one in sub-sahara where they spend their time toting jugs on their shoulders and heads too and from every day and most certainly they will not say to a soda "fountain".

By ocala florida … (not verified) on 23 May 2011 #permalink

I really love the movie pirates of the Caribbean especially Johnny Depp. Congats to the team, they always entertain the audience. They deserve to be the box office movie.

By Atlanta Roofing (not verified) on 23 May 2011 #permalink

hmm it was ok not the best in 3d found it very dark and difficult to watch in places found myself lifting my 3d glasses every couple of minutes wish i had seen it in 2d and would of been cheaper to all in all not a bad movie but wasn't great

By Atlanta Roofing (not verified) on 23 May 2011 #permalink

The movie was great. I saw it Friday, and I liked it. It seemed to be missing something or had too much of something but I really liked it. I loved the Mermaids!! Johnny is wonderful of course!

By Great Outdoors (not verified) on 23 May 2011 #permalink

What's an "ounce"? Didn't they stop using them in the middle ages or something?

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 23 May 2011 #permalink

Hibob - I'm paying about $60 per month for Lovaza - I sure HOPE it's working

I haven't seen any of the Pirates movies, no reason, just haven't. That photo at the top, though, seems awfully close to child-porn. 20 years ago, if someone had taken that photo innocently enough and sent it to the Camera-Hut for processing, they likely would have had an unpleasant surprise waiting when they went to pick it up.

Darn, I thought this post was going to be about Coca leaf tea.

As a stimulant, it is superior to coffee in pretty much every way that counts - far less mental irritability, less tachycardia and much easier on the stomach, not to mention full of minerals.

This is really a great the pirates of the Caribbean, it is really a nice movie since the first movie episode. Even though there is a little change of the cast, I still love to watch it. Congrats to the team you mad it to box office.

While it was better than At Worldâs End and had its moments, it was just sooo overstuffed with useless story lines. They could have cut the entire mermaid plot line out and I would havenât missed a thing. Same goes for the Spanish, I couldnât really figure out what their purpose in the film was. The mother/father conflict was under developed. But I found the first half pretty entertaining before it started to sputter through the second half.

By Learn To Sing (not verified) on 25 May 2011 #permalink