By Olubunmi Tayo-Fasuan
Nutraceutical is a broad term used in describing a food or food component that provides health and medical benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in the food. It is a new focus in preventive medicine due to its therapeutic and prophylactic properties.
The benefits derived from nutraceuticals are:
- prevention of chronic diseases;
- delay in aging process;
- increase in life expectancy;
- improvement of health;
- boosting of self confidence and mood.
Nutraceutic chemicals are found in plant as phytochemicals, in food as antioxidants and in microorganisms as probiotics. Nutraceuticals can be categorized into different types:
- Dietary Supplements – isolated or purified food component sold in medicinal forms e.g. capsule, tablet, powders, liquid or extracts;
- Functional foods – foods that have been fortified or enriched to restore the original nutrient content before processing back to it e.g. addition of vitamin D to milk.
Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine advocated the healing effects of food when he said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”. Therefore, eating food with nutraceutical properties is an optimum goal of anyone who wants to be healthy. Examples of food components with nutraceutical properties are:
- Lycopene, a natural red pigment synthesized by plant and microorganisms. It is found in red fruits and vegetables particularly tomato.
- Beta Carotene is found in carrots, broccoli and other green-leafed vegetables.
- Lutein is found in Peas and green vegetables, particularly Spinach.
- Soy Isoflavones found in Soybeans and Soybeans products such as Soymilk and Soysauce
- Tea polyphenols found in Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to South-East Asia
- Flavonoids found in Citrus and tea.
The list cannot be exhausted here. But arguably, preference for consumption of nutraceuticals can do us more good than synthetic foods and drugs. But the future of curative and preventive medicine can definitely be in nutraceutical foods.