Decoding “Functional Foods” for Optimal Health

What are functional foods? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence.”

If you are still confused about functional foods, it basically means foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. For instance, eating foods that contain phytochemicals like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and other plant sources has been linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis and coronary heart disease.

But consumers should be aware that many processed foods become functional foods when they are fortified with nutrients or enhanced with phytochemicals or herbs. For example, calcium-fortified orange juice or cereals enriched with vitamins and minerals. Even eggs and milk are now being fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids for heart health, but you can naturally obtain this unsaturated fat in your diet by eating cold water fish like salmon, swordfish, or tuna. Regular intake of functional foods in its purest, natural form promotes optimal health by helping to reduce the risk of disease.

Below are a few examples of food sources and possible health effects:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale (to name a few) may trigger production of enzymes that block DNA damage from carcinogens.
  • Hot peppers regulate blood clotting and possibly reduce the risk of fatal clots in heart and artery disease.
  • Whole-grain wheat and rye may reduce the risks of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
  • Red wine, peanuts, grapes, and raspberries act as an antioxidant and may prevent cancer growth as well as inflammation.
  • Intensely pigmented fruits and vegetables (apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, red pepper, and watermelon) act as antioxidants, possibly reducing risks of cancer and other diseases.

The ideal way to incorporate functional foods in your diet is to routinely choose whole, unprocessed foods and fruits and vegetables in an array of colors.  So, an apple a day keeps the doctor away and may protect against heart disease!

Quote of the week:

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.  ~Hippocrates

Recipe of the Week:

Baked Salmon
Salmon is a great source of protein and rich in Omega-3 fatty acid. It is also linked to improved cardiovascular health and helps fight joint inflammation. This oven-baked salmon recipe can be ready to eat in 20 minutes!

8 oz salmon fillet
Coarse salt or salt-free seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedge

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon skin-side down on baking sheet. Season the salmon with salt and pepper (I used an organic salt-free seasoning). Bake until cooked through, about 12-15 minutes. Squeeze with lemon before serving. Serves 2.

Baked Salmon

Published by

Leslie Ouellette

Listening and learning about nutrition, exercise, and health-related issues has been a life-long passion turned into action. I am most passionate about my family, friends, and good health. I am a business professional with over 30 years of expertise in marketing, market research, communications, writing, and editing. @balancedhealthblog

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