A Primer on Functional Foods

What are functional foods? And why are we so passionate about them?

The FDA does not formally define “functional foods”. However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explain functional foods as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence.”

Meanwhile, Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic more simply defines functional foods as “foods that have a potentially positive effect on health -- beyond basic nutrition.”

It turns out that the term Functional Foods is fairly broad, encompassing both foods that merely have a positive effect on health, as well as “fortified foods” which include additional ingredients to improve health, such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics or nutraceuticals.

Common examples of non-fortified, conventional functional foods include fruits, vegetables, seeds and fermented foods. These food items may offer a number of health benefits due to their high nutritional value. One commonly cited example of a conventional functional food is oatmeal, since it is high in soluble fiber that may help lower cholesterol. 

On the other hand, fortified functional foods may include enriched dairy products, cereals, juices and even eggs. These products are enhanced with key nutrients which may be lacking in many diets, for example, milk with added vitamin D. 

Ultimately, all fortified foods would be considered functional foods, but not all functional foods are fortified.

For the purposes of this blog, let’s focus on our favorite functional food - Functional Chocolate.

At The Functional Chocolate Company, we chose chocolate as the perfect base to enhance with our unique nutraceutical ingredients and formulations for a couple of reasons. 

First and foremost, dark chocolate is already a functional food due to its high flavanols, antioxidants and minerals including magnesium, zinc, iron and copper.

Secondly, fortifying chocolate with active nutraceuticals creates an indulgent and especially effective experience, as the natural healthy fats in chocolate act as a carrier to improve bioavailability of the other ingredients.​

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, rich, flavorful chocolate offers a pleasurable delivery method for the key ingredients, making it more likely that the supplement will be consumed regularly, which can be a challenge with less palatable pills, tinctures or capsules.

Women have used chocolate to self soothe for millennia. Psychology Today has even reported on the correlation between chocolate cravings and times of stress in women, including PMS and menopause.​

Given all of these benefits, we believe chocolate is the world’s best functional food.