What the Heck Are 'Functional Foods'?

Dr. Oz has the answer.

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Q: What the heck are 'functional foods'?

Oz Says: It's not a regulated term, so there are as many definitions as there are foods calling themselves functional. Should you eat more of them? That depends.

What Functional Could Mean

1. The food provides health benefits above and beyond basic nutrition.

Oats would qualify because their fiber can reduce cholesterol; so would tomatoes for their potentially cancer-fighting lycopene.

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Should you eat more of these? Yes! These are foods in their natural forms. So it's always great to get more of them. Need ideas for how to do that? Just read our recipes section — don't miss the superfood casseroles roundup!

2. Ingredients are added to help deliver nutrients you might not get otherwise.

Examples include iodized salt, grains fortified with folic acid, and orange juice with calcium.

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Should you eat more of these? Maybe. Think about whether you're getting the nutrients elsewhere before you max out on these. Calcium-fortified OJ plus a supplement might be more than you need every day.

3. It's an energy bar or a sports drink.

They call themselves functional because they may help sports performance. But if you're not an athlete, they could just enhance your love handles.

Should you eat more of these? Only if you work your calorie budget around them. Some bars have as many as 300 calories — which would take about an hour to burn off by walking, even if you're going at a brisk pace.

This story originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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