As consumers, we’re always looking for the best deal, option and/or product that offers the most features or characteristics. That type of decision making is strongly integrated in what people choose to consume and eat. If you’re looking for foods to maximize the nutritional benefits, you may want to take a closer look at functional foods. Specifically, functional foods are known to have the potential to offer a positive effect beyond basic nutrition. Consumption of functional foods can not compensate for other poor eating habits.
Some foods are naturally considered functional, while others are modified to become more functional. Foods are categorized as a conventional food (i.e. grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits), additives, modified foods (i.e. yogurt, cereal, and orange juice) , dietary supplement, medical food (i.e. special formulations of foods and beverages) or for specific dietary use (i.e. infant formula). For example, oatmeal’s naturally a functional food that contains soluable fiber to lower cholesterol levels. Orange juice is a modified functional food that is often fortified with calcium to improve bone health.
- Cold Water Fish: such as salmon and/or sardines, contain a good amount of omega 3 fatty acids–may lower overall risk of heart disease, reduce joint pain, improve brain development and function; recommended to consume at least eight ounces of fish per week
- Whole grains: such as barley–a fiber rich food that can also lower one’s cholesterol levels and help control blood sugars.
- Nuts: can help control blood sugars, cashews and almonds are also great sources of magnesium, which is known to lower one’s blood pressure
- Beans: Potassium, fiber, protein and folate rich, beans are an all around optimal functional food! Opt for low sodium beans if you’re purchasing canned! By rinsing beans prior to consumption can also reduce sodium content by up to 40%
- Berries: All types of berries are not only low in calories, but contain the pigment anthocyanin, which delays or prevents cell damage.
One may argue all foods provide a function, which is true, but in terms of what the health world considers functional may have a different connotation in mind. Again, functional foods are praised for their additional benefits to promote optimal health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases–such as cancer or heart disease. There is no standard definition that foods adhere to be considered functional, but the FDA regulates manufacturers’ claims regarding health and nutrition promotion, impact on body and/or nutrient content.
It takes a little bit of discernment to push through the bombardment of health and nutrition claims manufacturers confuse consumers with, but by incorporating more berries, beans, barley, nuts and/or salmon into your daily meals is a great start!