I learned a new word the other day: “functional foods”. At first I could only assume that a “functional” food must be one that provides needed nutrients and is good for health, the environment, and the local economy. A non-functional food would be one that contains excessive salt, sugar, or fat and that is harmful to health, the environment, and/or the local economy. Thus all real foods – foods that exist in their natural state, without manipulation by food processors – would be functional foods, and ultra-processed foods such as breakfast cereals, chips, soft drinks, and fast food would be non-functional. The higher the proportion of our diet that consists of real food, the more of our food purchases goes to local farmers and sellers, and not to multinational corporations. Better yet if that food is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides.
But no…it turns out that the definition of “functional” foods is ones to which various ingredients have been added to make them even “better” than the food in its original state. The article which I read focused on special foods for diabetics, such as low-sugar biscuits fortified with various nutrients. Sorry guys…that’s actually a highly dysfunctional way of looking at food. In fact, the less a food is processed, the better it is…and the arrogance of believing that we can improve on nature is what got us into a lot of the messes we’re in. Forget what food processors tell us: Mother Nature knew what she was doing when creating natural foods, and the healthiest diets are those based on them. The healthiest diets, incidentally, are also the best for farmers and the local economy. In my own experience, once we cut back on heavily processed foods, we will lose our appetite for them; nothing can beat the taste of real food…or the healthy and satisfying sensation of knowing that while we nourish ourselves, we are also doing something good for the environment and the local economy.