What’s the Deal with Functional Foods?

We live in a fast-paced world where, despite our best intentions, we often miss out on ticking all the boxes in the ‘healthy diet’ list. On top of this, many people choose to restrict or eliminate certain foods, so even though a diet is rich in certain essential vitamins and nutrients, many people don’t get the full spectrum of nutritional goodness required for optimal health and vitality. Don’t despair; there is an easy way to address this problem…

What are functional foods and formula?

Thankfully, these have foods and formulas have nothing to do with complex math questions… Our bodies need certain amounts of vitamins and nutrients to be able to repair, grow and function. When our diets don’t follow the right path (for whatever reason) it’s important to ensure that we find another way to acquire all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients that we need. That’s where functional formulas come in.

If you are wondering how functional formulas compare nutritionally to fresh juices that you make or buy it’s important to realise a number of other health-boosting ingredients that go into formulas. Whereas a fresh green juice, for example, is limited to the ingredients that can be easily extracted, functional formulas include a wide spectrum of nutrients and often contain antioxidants, prebiotics and probiotics. The high potency of nutrients used in the formulas ensures that they meet your body’s requirements.

Functional formulas are available in either a liquid or powder form and are ready to use straight away, meaning they can be easily added to your existing meal or drink. They are also easy to transport which makes them the perfect travel companion for people who are jumping in and out of cars, flying across the country or even just to have on hand at your desk.

When it comes to producing powdered formulas individual brands vary. Generally speaking, the ingredients are either light or freeze-dried to capture full potency and tend to contain either low or zero calories. 

The specialised extraction process used to make liquid functional formulas also differs to regular juices. CranAloe, a superfood punch, is created in a way that means the producer can squeeze over 60,000mg fresh cranberry fruit into each bottle!

When to use nutritional powders

There are three occasions when functional formulas can really come into their own:

1. Restrictive diets. When certain food groups are restricted or removed from a person’s diet they need to find alternate ways of sourcing lost vitamins and minerals. Take, for example, a vegan diet. While it can be very healthy, vegans often suffer the effects of a diet with low calcium, iron, and zinc levels. As vitamin B12 is only derived from meat it is also necessary that they eat fortified foods such as cereals. As a result of missing essential vitamins and minerals, vegans can often feel lethargic with have low-energy levels. One solution to this problem is using a powder like Beet-A-Greens which provides an energy-giving combination of minerals and vitamins along with other health-boosting antioxidants and superfoods.

2. Poor diets. Perhaps you have to travel a lot for work or you eat alone and tend to rely on ready-made-meals? If your diet consists of too much of one thing and not enough of another you will be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. It is possible that your digestion will be sluggish. A functional formula such as Charcoal Max is able to clean the GI tract, reduce the discomfort of trapped wind, flatulence and bloating – all common side effects of a poor diet. As with other functional formulas, Charcoal Max contains a combination of ingredients. In this case, charcoal is mixed with peppermint oil, papaya, fennel and ginger in a tummy-busting super-combo that ensures good results as well as boosting antioxidant levels.

3. Illness. When your body is depleted and tackling an infection or even disease it is crucial to make sure you are providing your body with its daily dose of much-needed vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. In this case, Tangy Vitamin C is a powdered drink that delivers a daily recommended dose of Vitamin C by combining it with hesperidin to increase its effect. It also includes calcium phosphate, making it gentle on the stomach.

Finding solutions in functional formulas

If you or a family member has an allergy or intolerance to certain foods it can be difficult to find alternatives that fit into everyone’s diet. One example of this is when a milk, or more specifically, a lactose intolerance occurs. A functional formula like Wonder Whey, which is a low allergenic milk-like powder, is a great solution. It contains medium chain triglycerides, a form of dietary fat that is easier for the body to digest and turn into energy. Unlike regular cow’s milk, it also includes fibre. Stored in a convenient pouch it means an alternative to dairy is available whenever and wherever you need it and is tasty enough for all the family to enjoy.

How regularly should I take a functional powder?

Unless formulas are used as an alternative product to deal with allergies (like Wonder Whey) functional formulas should be considered as a supplement to an already healthy diet or used in times of need, such as illness. While they have wonderful benefits they are not a replacement for eating healthy foods or an excuse to eat badly. That said, if you think you eat healthily and don’t need to supplement your diet, consider this: according to research conducted by the University College of London1, statistics show that we should be aiming to eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Most people struggle to reach the five-a-day limit so using a functional formula to ‘top up’ makes sense. The same study went on to find that people who ate seven portions of fruit and veggies per day were 42% less likely to suffer from instances of sudden death than people who only ate one portion per day.

Harvard University regularly conducts research into the importance of vegetables in our diet. They reiterated the results of previous research into a group of more than 80,000 women over a 20-year period2. This found that those who had supplemented a low-carb diet with high vegetable intake had a 30 per cent lower risk of heart disease compared to women who were using a low-fat, high carb diet.

Do functional formulas have a place in our lives? Definitely. For topping up an already healthy diet, helping us through times of illness or as an alternative for allergies – formulas have their place. Not only do they provide us with essential vitamins and minerals but they also boost our antioxidants levels and throw in a few other nice surprises too. Enjoy.

1 Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 31 March 2014. doi: 10.1136/jech-2013-203500

2 Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, et al. Low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1991-2002.

Michelle Hubbard is a UK-born writer living in (and loving) New Zealand. An experienced writer, Michelle has worked women’s monthly magazines such as Good Housekeeping and SHE and as a journalist for The London Evening Standard and New Woman’s websites. Additionally, she wrote her own parenting blog while living in the UK. Michelle qualified as a personal trainer in 2005. Although she no longer trains, she still participates in regular exercise such as CrossFit, Zumba, yoga and running.


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