The word “nutraceutical” is derived from combining the words “nutrient” and “pharmaceutical”. Known as medicinally functional food, nutraceuticals are foods or food sources that have been found to have “medicinal” properties that may assist in treating, or aiding in the treatment of, diseases and conditions.
So what’s the difference between a nutraceutical and a superfood?
Okay, so here’s the thing: before this article, I had pretty much zero clue of what the difference between a superfood and a nutraceutical was. I mean, they seem to do exactly the same thing, right?
The term “superfood” applies to any nutritionally dense foods such kale, chia seeds and blueberries. There is, however, no list or board that determines what constitutes as a superfood, and many consider this term to be a marketing ploy more than anything else.
With nutraceuticals, however, a regulatory board has established that their nutrient contribution have a significantly positive influence on medical conditions. The other main difference is that while superfoods are generally eaten whole, or pretty much unprocessed, nutraceuticals are generally consumed in a pill or capsule form.
To be honest, I feel this is definitely a better way to get your daily omega-3’s. Imagine how much fish you’d have to eat just to get that right!
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So here’s the thing
Nutraceuticals have been proven to help with many medical conditions, from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, cancer to dementia and everything in between. But here’s the thing, unlike medicines, nutraceuticals are like vitamins and supplements in that they are not regulated and put to the same level of rigorous testing as pharmaceuticals This means that although they are beneficial, there is no prescribed limit as to how much a person can ingest before it becomes a problem.
Some nutraceuticals, like St John’s Wort, have even been found to influence prescribed medication such as antibiotics and contraceptives, making them less effective because of the way these medications are absorbed, distributed and utilised in the body. Not great.
Some popular nutraceuticals
While Omega-3 supplements are a popular choice that everyone seems to have added to their daily supplements, nutraceuticals on the other hand are far more varied to the extent that every food has some sort of beneficial ingredient.
Think flavonoids, found in foods like grapefruit, cherries and red wine, that help to protect the vascular system and assist in carrying blood and nutrients to all your cells. Or Phytosterols, found in green and yellow veggies, that help to fight cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. I’m sure everyone’s heard that tomatoes fight cancer, but ever wondered why? It’s thanks to their high levels of lycopene, a carotenoid that helps to decrease oxidative stress and DNA damage. You can also find carotenoids in papaya, watermelon and guava.
Worried about free radicals that are making you age? Try eating more grapes, lentils and berries, as they have been proven to neutralize carcinogens and free radicals.
Sure, you can get these nutraceuticals as powders or capsules, but personally I’d prefer to get my daily polyphenols from a glass of red wine rather than from a pill.