Functional foods are foods with health-promoting benefits and/or disease-preventing properties that go beyond its fundamental nutritional value. Functional foods can be found in any supermarket and understanding what these types of foods do for us can be very beneficial.
Understanding Functional Foods
These foods are categorized as having pre-biotic and pro-biotic bacteria and are found in some types of yogurt and fermented milk products. Pro-biotic bacteria is a ‘live microbial feed supplement that beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal balance.’ This means that pro-biotics improve the balance of bacteria in the gut, which reduces the risk of disease. Conversely, pre-biotic foods aren’t digested by the body but stimulates the growth of certain bacteria in the colon, causing improved health. Pre-biotics include ingredients such as inulin or fructo-oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates which are added to certain yogurts). Other functional foods are enriched with plant chemicals, which can be found in margarines such as Benecol and Flora Proactive. Plant chemicals are similar in structure to cholesterol and are called sterols. They differ from cholesterol in that they are not absorbed by the gut and can inhibit the absorption of cholesterol from the diet. Studies have shown that plant sterols can significantly reduce LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) while raising HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) in the blood. Other functional foods are fortified with folic acid, which are found in staple foods such as bread or breakfast cereals. A good intake of folic acid or folate (B vitamin) is needed to reduce the risk of neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida that can develop in unborn babies. Finally, there are functional foods that are fortified with n-3 or omega-3 fatty acids that are found in foods like eggs. People who have high intakes of oily fish, which are a strong source of omega-3 fatty acid have a lower incidence of heart disease than those who don’t. By incorporating beneficial fish oils into products such as eggs, people who dislike oily fish can still benefit from these oils.
“Staple foods” was mentioned above and a basic definition is added here. They are a basic but nutritious food that forms the basis of a traditional diet, particularly that of the poor. Although nutritious, staple foods generally do not by themselves provide a full range of nutrients, so other foods need to be added to the diet to prevent malnutrition. Staple foods vary from place to place, but are usually of vegetable origin, from cereals, pulses, corn, rice, millets and plants growing starchy roots. Bread, noodles (or pasta), rice congee, polenta and porridge are prepared from them. Types of bread that are considered staples in some parts of the world are tortillas, chapatis, naan, and mantou. Staple crops harvested as root vegetables for their starchy underground storage organ include cassava, potato, sweet potato, yam, and taro.
Functional Foods List
1. Almonds: Lowers LDL and total cholesterol. Reduces risk of heart disease
2. Avocado: Reduces risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis
3. Beans: Reduces risk of heart disease and diabetes
4. Blueberries: Reduces risk of cancer
5. Broccoli: Lowers LDL cholesterol, Reduces risk of cancer, Maintains healthy immune system
6. Cheese: May decreases risk of certain cancers
7. Chocolate: May decrease risk for cardiovascular disease
8. Citrus Fruits: Reduces risk of certain cancers
9. Cranberries: Improves urinary tract health and prevents infection, Reduces risk of heart disease
10. Flax Seed: Reduces risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis
11. Garlic: Reduces risk of cancer, Lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure
12. Hot Cocoa: Reduces risk of cancer and heart disease
13. Milk: Reduces risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure and colon cancer
14. Oatmeal: Reduces total and LDL cholesterol levels
15. Olive Oil: Reduces heart disease risk by improving cholesterol levels
16. Salmon: Improves mental and visual function: Reduces risk of heart disease
17. Soy: Reduces risk of heart disease, Reduces risk of certain cancers, Can lowers LDL cholesterol, Eases menopausal symptoms
18. Spinach: Maintains healthy vision
19. Strawberries: May lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, and improve memory.
20. Tea, black and green: Reduces risk for stomach, esophageal, and skin cancers, and heart disease
21. Tomatoes: Reduces risk of prostate cancer and heart attack
22. Tuna: Reduces risk of heart disease
23. Walnuts: Enhances mental functioning, Lowers total and LDL cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease
24. Whole Grains: Reduces risk of certain cancers and heart disease
25. Wine, Red and Grapes/grape juice: Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer
26. Yogurt, cultured dairy products: Improves intestinal health, Reduces risk of cancer, Reduces cholesterol