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Functional Foods: What Can They Do For You?

Updated on October 12, 2013

Nutritionally Synergistic Food Combinations?

Functional Foods: What Can They Do For You?

By Laceylinks

Our bodies have the capability of being self-healing. Strong words, right? Ok, the whole truth behind this truth is- with the right nutritional support our bodies have the capability of being self-healing. Does that statement strike a chord with you? So what are the right foods to provide this support? That’s a good question.

Have you ever heard the term functional foods ? A functional food is one which provides taste, a good smell (Mmmm!) and nutritional value? Almost right, but we’re not quite there yet. A functional food provides a benefit beyond its individual nutritional components. A nutrient or health benefit has been added to the food. The addition of vitamin D to milk, calcium to orange juice or omega 3's to margarine enhances the health benefits of that food, making it more functional. After the addition, that food offers a new health promoting benefit it wouldn't ordinarily have. It’s sort of like synergy, which is defined as “producing an effect greater than the sum of its parts”.

A plant-based diet has been shown by research to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer by as much as 50%. Why is that? It has to do with a substance called phytochemicals , present in fruits and vegetables. You may already know that fruits and vegetables contain important nutrients like vitamin C, folate, B vitamins and so on. You may not have known about the added functional aspect of these foods as they pertain to the specific benefits mentioned above. Tomatoes, for example, contain an antioxidant called lycopene. This phytochemical, which is present in several everyday foods (tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon) has been studied and found to be a potent cancer fighter. You can purchase lycopene in supplement form and add it to your diet to obtain this benefit- OR simply add lycopene-rich foods to your daily diet.

Here's a delicious and beneficial food that does your body good - oats. Eating oats (and we are not talking the instant kind) can actually lower bad cholesterol in your blood, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. This fact was researched and discovered way back in 1997, and the Quaker Oats company picked up on it right away, making it public knowledge in its ad campaigns. What you might be surprised to know about oats is that they also contain over 60 different nutrients, and have powerful antioxidant phytonutrients called avenanthromides. They also contain a special fiber called beta-glucan, which is the cholesterol lowering component of this amazing grain.

Here’s another one: soy. Soy products, including soybeans (edamame), natto, soy cheese, soy milk, tofu, miso and meat alternatives can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, menopause symptoms and osteoporosis. Wow!

Flaxseed is high in omega 3s (that’s lineolic acid) and a fiber-related compound called lignans. Research has linked breast cancer to lignan levels- the higher those levels, the lower the risk for that type of cancer. Adding flaxseed to your salads or as a substitute for eggs or butter in recipes is a delicious way to put healthy fatty acids and fiber into your diet.

The most well-known herb for its health protective properties is probably garlic. Garlic contains a sulphur-based amino acid substance called alliin. This substance only becomes active and beneficial when the garlic bulbs are crushed. Then it becomes an effective anticarcenogenic, and can help protect you against gastrointestinal cancers as well as lowering cholesterol. So make sure you mash that little garlic bulb well to gain the health benefit as well as lots of flavor.

Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower belong to a family of vegetables called cruciferous . These vegetables contain glucosinolates, a substance research has shown reduces the risk of breast cancer in particular.

Enough about the vegetables, let’s take a look at some other foods that contain nutrients easily added to your present diet- such as citrus fruits. Citrus fruits contain L-ascorbic acid, folate and fiber. They also contain phytochemicals called limonoids, which help fight against tumor formation. L-ascorbic acid as a supplement is best taken with water or juice, and has been shown to fight cancer and heart disease. Science is actually working on developing an element found in limonoids for cancer treatment.

Studies conducted on green tea showed that Japanese women who consumed 5 cups or more per day had a reduced incidence of breast cancer.

Red wine and red grape consumption has been linked with a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Ahem, with regard to the red wine, the key is in moderation .

Some other food nutrients commonly added to foods to enhance their health benefits include: omega 3 fatty acids, linoleic acid, alpha tocopherol, beta carotene and thiamine mononitrate. These are all plant-based nutrients, so even though a plant-based diet reduces certain cancer risks, there is still hope for the meat lovers among us who would really hate to give up their meat.

Let’s be aware of the importance of these findings: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy products all contain different functional components. How they are prepared is also important. Fresh fruit, steamed, raw or lightly sauted vegetables, grilled or broiled meats- these are preparation methods that preserve the nutrients present in their most potent forms. The functionality of the foods you choose to add to your daily diet can be diminished if they are overcooked, so minimal processing is the best way to preserve the beneficial components they contain. Bon apetit!


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