What are Functional Foods?

Share Button

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?


Share Button

image We're joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop sponsored by Sugar, the Golden Retriever and Kolchak from Kol's Notes:


  1. Very interesting. The Veterinary community is finding out how beneficial prebiotics are becoming in helping out many conditions and having a health benefit on animals not only in straightening out the bacteria in the gut. We use purina fortia flora and it has been shown to be a appetite stimulant for dogs and cats that aren’t eating well.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…When A Miracle Is NeededMy Profile

  2. Diet is so important to both our health and our pets. I wish more pet owners would take it seriously!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…“Rise and Grind” #BowzerboxMy Profile

  3. Hmmm, this is very interesting and I must agree with you; it makes a ton of sense. I cannot wait to see what other information you dig up on this, and related, subjects.
    Oz the Terrier recently posted…Bravo Pet Foods Beef TracheaMy Profile

  4. EXACTLY! Since cancer in people has been reversed by diet, it must also hold true in our beloved pets. I would love to make my own dog food so I’m waiting to hear more about this from you and what to add, in addition to the fish oil. TY!

  5. We love functional foods & are looking forward to more of your articles about them!
    P.S. The pups got their omega-3 fatty acids with their serving of breakfast this morning! (I got mine in my chia seeds I sprinkled on my cereal).
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Top 3 things to keep in mind when choosing a healthy dog dietMy Profile

  6. We believe in functional foods. Lots of the health issues today are cause by bad diets for sure. No fish oil here, though. Fish stuff is one thing my mom refuses to deal with…fish phobia of some sort I think. We’ll be interested to hear more.
    Emma recently posted…The Gift Of Fun In A BoxMy Profile

  7. It’s not until I read articles like this that I remember I was going to give my dogs fish oil. Thank you. I have some in the cupboard.

  8. Functional foods makes a lot of sense. We eat to fuel our bodies so why wouldn’t we do the same for our pups. Wish everyone would think this way! Great post, can’t wait to read your next post!
    Miley’s Daily Scoop recently posted…Holistic Dog Treats Delivered Right to Your DoorMy Profile

  9. I’m not sure I’ve heard of the term ‘functional foods’ before, I like it! It helps to move food out of the ‘entertainment’ category and into a healthier one. For dogs and ourselves.

    After started my dogs (8 years old) on fish oil and noticed an improvement in their mobility.
    Leah recently posted…Are Road Trips Measured in Mileage or Time?My Profile

  10. I find I spend more time worrying about Harley’s nutritional needs than I do my own LOL Gotta get better in that area. We do the coconut oil – fish oil makes me gag AND it’s so heavy. Harley was struggling with it himself.

  11. We give the boys a hip & joint supplement that contains fish oil in it each day. They love fish treats and dog food. We switch flavors up for them.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB Channel 7 NETWoof NewsMy Profile

  12. Great article! Our dogs love fish oils, coconut oil too. They get a few bites of every fish dinner we have, and a taste of the skin too if that’s involved. When we order out- we always bring home a doggie bag of all the fish extras for them 🙂
    Kaitlin-SheSpeaksBark recently posted…Comment on Beating the Winter Blues with Best Bully Sticks! by Will and EkoMy Profile

  13. Love this … great interesting information and important for pet parents to know. Golden Woofs
    Golden Woofs: Sugar recently posted…Can Dogs Have Strawberries?My Profile

  14. Great article…if it doesn’t make you healthier, don’t eat it! Its amazing to see how food can impact a dogs life.
    MyDogLikes recently posted…The Sarge Dog Bone by MerrickMy Profile

  15. There is a new book out there by Dr. Dodds on nutrigenomics; I can’t wait to be able to get my hands on that.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Cookie Has Tapeworm InfectionMy Profile

  16. I haven’t heard of the term “functional foods” but we do eat many of them in our household and believe some are beneficial to our pets as well. I’m looking forward to your future articles on these foods. Great information!
    Elaine recently posted…Teach Your Dog to Play Find ItMy Profile

  17. Thunder and Storm have had salmon as their main protein in their food for years. I think it definitely has helped their joints. Freighter did not do well on salmon as a young dog, but now that he is older and mature we are going to try him on it again. I think there are a lot of benefits besides joint health like skin and coat health.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bytes–It’s Super Bowl Ad Preview TimeMy Profile

  18. Great article! We too believe in the power of a healthy diet! 🙂 Unfortunately fish oil gave our pups bad gas..and I mean BAD.
    So no fish oil for them but we do give them coconut oil and a glucosamine supplement – we’re starting them young because we do so much outdoor activities and sports.
    DZ Dogs recently posted…Meet RobinMy Profile

Comments are now closed on this post.