We take in food mainly as a source of energy to maintain physical activity and reconstruct or repair damaged cells. The belief has existed since ancient times, however, that the role of food also covers the promotion of good health. The Greek intellectual, Hippocrates (460-380 BC), told his students, “Let thy food by thy medicine and let thy medicine by thy food.” Many other examples of the belief in the interrelation between food and medicine come from Chinese culture. For thousands of years, China has used various foods as medicine. A mother who has just given birth, for example, will have fish maw soup to hasten recovery. Bird nest beverages are considered good for cleaning up the lungs and are highly recommended for smokers. Another well known health food is essence of chicken, good for students, the aged, convalescent patients or even overworked modern executives.
- Modern food consumers
In the past, due to scarcities the main purpose of food for consumers was to fill their stomachs. A few decades after the agricultural revolution that introduced new production technologies, however, the world produces enough food for the global population and more choices are available at affordable prices. Consumers with disposable income adjust their lifestyles and their needs and expectations from food. They now look for food to improve their quality of life rather than just provide energy. Special requirements include parents who want food to enhance the potential of their offspring, those with active lifestyles and the aged, who are coming to dominate world demographics and want to boost their immunity to various ailments. The general population needs foods that enhance overall well-being. Out of these increasingly sophisticated and specific demands, health food has flourished.
- What is health food?
Food provides the energy fordaily activities. Modern consumers, however, want to improve their quality of life by taking in food that can reduce their risk of various ailments, and this has pushed food scientists to work with nutritionists to craft foods with additional benefits.
- Types of health food
Health food can be categorized indifferent ways. For this column we will focus on groups familiar to the local market:
Dairy: Milk is a good quality food and products derived from milk are also regarded as healthy. Benefits can be enhanced by adding ingredientssuch as vitamins and minerals or omega 3 from fish oil. The most notable member of this group is probiotic or fermented milk, which contains bacteria that help sustain normal digestion and boost the immune system.
Fruits, cereals and vegetables: These non-animal foods are recommended by nutritionists as indispensable for good health. The seprovide not only vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients but also fibre to aiddigestion.
Soybean milk: Considered a good source of protein, soybean milkhas been popular with Thai consumers for decades. In recent years, for tifiedsoy bean drinks have been especially popular.
Teas and other infusions: Nevermind the lucky draws on the marketright now, the benefits of the tea plant(Camellia sinensis) have been backed by research over a few thousand years.Popular among Asians, especially in China and Japan, tea has many benefits, such as by burning fat, reducing cholesterol absorption and helping manage body weight. Otherplants consumed as beverages can alsoprovide phytonutrients beneficial toour body in different ways.
Coffee: Besides keeping drinkers awake – a property of caffeine – manystudies confirm other health benefitsof coffee, such as protecting our liver from cancer.
Sports drinks: These are becoming more popular in tandem with the trendof being more physically active. After sweating heavily, our bodies need mineral replenishment, and the sports beverage market capitalizes on this.
- Why eat health food?
Unlike supplements, taken fornutritional and physical needs, the first consideration for food is of tentaste. Health food provides additional benefits, but the primary consideration remains the same. Other factors that consumers consider include packaging, convenience and the absence of unhealthy ingredients such as fat and sugar. For Thais who rely on endorsements, a mark of FDA approval may influence their decision.