You may have heard of “functional foods”, also termed nutraceuticals, and perhaps you’re wondering if all the hype is true.
Whole foods and packaged foods alike are now marketed to benefit everything from your intestines to your heart to your memory. Functional foods are foods that have health benefits beyond normal nutrition. Functional foods range from cereals and bars enriched with folic acid to your average tomato or cup of green tea, while nutraceuticals are more commonly sold in pill form.
Often, a food is termed functional because it contains a high amount of phytochemicals. These natural, active plant chemicals have been found to boost health. Phytochemcials are plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy foods, and many herbs and spices (parsley, chives, garlic and ginger). The presence of antioxidants in a food is another reason it can be termed “functional”. Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium, work to destroy harmful particles in the blood that can lead to heart problems and other complications. Examples of foods with antioxidants include tea (catechins), wine or grape juice (resveratrol), berries (flavonoids such as quercetin) and citrus foods (flavonoids/limonoids).
Below is a list of the top 10 most trustworthy and healthful functional foods you can eat. This January, treat yourself to at least one food from the list below each day, and rotate your choices through the categories for optimal nutrition and healthy eating all year long.
1. Omega-3 enriched eggs. Functional Components: Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA); The fatty acid profile of the egg yolks is altered by changing the feed the hens receive. Hens receive feed rich in omega-3s, typically from flaxseed, fish oil or sea algae. The subsequent eggs the hens lay, contain increased amounts of omega-3s, and decreased amounts of saturated fats. What they do: May lower triglycerides, cholesterol, and reduce the risk for coronary heart disease. Foods: Whole eggs in the carton, labeled “DHA/Omega-3-enriched”. Depending on the brand, omega-3 eggs can contain up to 350 mg omega-3s per egg, compared with 60 mg in a regular egg.
2. Oats. Functional Components: ß-glucan and phytochemicals called saponins. What they do: Reduce total and LDL cholesterol, may help lower blood pressure. Foods: Whole oats, oatmeal, lowfat granola, whole-oat bread, other whole-oat products.
3. Fatty fish. Functional Components: Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). What they do: Reduce triglycerides, reduce coronary heart disease. Foods: Salmon, Tuna, Striped Bass, Halibut, Sardines, Trout, Flounder.
4. Fortified margarines. Functional Components: Plant Sterol and stanol esters. What they do: Reduce total and LDL cholesterol for those persons with elevated cholesterol. Foods: Fortified margarines such as Benecol, Take Control, and SmartBalance. Replace your normal serving of margarine or butter with fortified margarines.
5. Soy- Functional Components: Phytochemicals such as isoflavones and genistein, and soy protein. What they do: Reduce total and LDL cholesterol, may reduce risk of ovarian and breast cancer, may reduce the incidence of menopausal hot flashes. Foods: Edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso, soynuts.
6. Tomatoes and tomato products. Functional Component: The phytochemical lycopene. What they do: The strongest evidence exists for lycopene’s role in the reduction of prostate cancer, but it also may reduce the risk of certain other cancers, and heart disease. Foods: Whole fresh or canned tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato soup (low-salt), salsa, gazpacho.
7. Probiotics. Functional Components: “Good for you” bacteria, typically lactobacillus. What they do: Support gastrointestinal (GI) health, may boost immunity. Foods: Yogurts supplemented with probiotics (look for a variety of live active cultures), fermented vegetables, and fermented soy products (i.e. tempeh).
8. Nuts. Functional Components: Monounsaturated fatty acids (healthy fats), vitamin E (antioxidant). What they do: May reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Foods: Walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and brazil nuts.
9. Grape Juice or Red Wine. Functional Component: Resveratrol. What they do: Exhibit heart-healthy effects. Foods: 100 perceent juice grape juice or grape juice mixtures (i.e. Grape-Apple 100 percent juice mixtures); any variety of red wine.
10. Leafy Greens. Functional Components: Phytochemicals such as carotenoids, sulforaphanes, apigenin, and lutein/zeaxanthin. What they do: Carotenoids block carcinogens from entering cells (cancer protective), sulforaphanes and apigenin provide heart protection, lutein reduces blindness in the elderly, and zeaxanthin enhances immune function. Foods: Spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, broccoli sprouts, arugula and other leafy greens.
For more information on nutrition, visit http://www.cherrycreeknutrition.com.