What are Functional Foods?
In our last article, we used the Hippocrates quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” to illuminate the idea that food can be a powerful deterrent and cure of many diseases and ailments. Hippocrates (rightfully) believed that the things that you eat can help the body fend of disease and that food should be the first line of disease defense and used as a disease preventative mechanism (my interpretation). To further reinforce this concept, there is a quote from a past Surgeon General of the United States that went something like this:
“80 % of diseases were caused by poor diet” Although I can’t track down the specific reference to this quote, it certainly makes sense to me and that it is an appropriate quote for a Surgeon General to make.
Along the lines of food as medicine, there is a term “functional foods” that is used to define foods that provide health benefits over and above basic nutrition. The term functional food was first used in Japan in the 1980s to classify foods that meet the above criteria.
In the United States, the FDA does not have a regulatory definition for functional foods. However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines a functional food as “a food that provides additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote good health.”
When it comes to our dogs, there have been many studies that have explored the health benefits of certain foods. Sophia Yin, DVM in her great article entitled “Can Diet Overcome DNA” in TheBark magazine, referred to fish oil as a treatment for canine arthritis and a type of prebiotic (fructooligosaccharide) as a possible aid in the treatment of diabetes. These studies are from the branch of nutrition called nutrigenomics which is the study of how nutrients can affect gene expression. Nutrigenomics examines the interaction in the body between nutrients and genes and studies whether specific nutrients can turn on the good genes and turn off the harmful ones. Sort of like medicine.
In the arthritis study, researchers at Purina, led by Dr. Steven Hannah, concluded that after being fed diets higher in Omega‐3 fatty acids, the dog’s joints contained less of the enzyme that degrades the cartilage, and more of the protein that inhibited these enzymes. Furthermore, a force plate analysis showed that affected dogs did indeed feel relief from arthritic pain and less lameness after the Omega-3 diet.
In the diabetes study led by Dr. Kelly Swanson, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, the prebiotic was fed to stimulate and feed beneficial microbes in the gut. The researchers concluded that the diet improved insulin sensitivity in fat cells of obese dogs, which suggests that a diet containing this type of prebiotic could be useful in diabetic patients.
Both of these studies provide great examples of how specific ingredients in some dog foods can act as medicine. There was another study, on food and obesity that was referenced in the Yin piece. Performed at Hills Pet Nutrition, researchers found that specific foods could change a dog’s genes and turn an obese dog’s body from fat storing to fat burning. This study is very interesting to me and I will be doing a deeper analysis on it for a future article.
There are a lot of other examples of functional foods that can provide significant health benefits besides basic nutrition. In coming posts, we will highlight other functional foods and their associated health benefits. In the meantime, have you fed your dog their fish (or fish oil) today?
We're joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop sponsored by Sugar, the Golden Retriever and Kolchak from Kol's Notes: