Functional foods are very much what they sound like. They’re foods that have a positive effect (or function on health, beyond basic nutrition.
Of course, all foods are functional because they provide varying amounts of nutrients and energy to sustain growth or support vital processes. However, functional foods are generally considered to offer additional benefits that may reduce the risk of disease or promote optimal health.
- Omega-3 enriched eggs: Functional Components include Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA); The fatty acid profile of the egg yolks is altered by changing the feed the hens receive. 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.
- Oats: Functional Components include ß-glucan and phytochemicals called saponins. What they do: Reduce cholesterol, may help lower blood pressure. Foods: Whole oats, oatmeal, low fat granola, whole-oat bread, other whole-oat products.
- Fatty fish: Functional Components include Omega-3 fatty acids. What they do: Reduce triglycerides, reduce coronary heart disease. Foods: Salmon, Tuna, Striped Bass, Halibut, Sardines, Trout, Flounder.
- Fortified margarines. Functional Components include plant Sterol and stanol esters. What they do: Reduce cholesterol for those with elevated cholesterol. Foods: Fortified margarines.
- Soy- Functional Components: Phytochemicals such as isoflavones and genistein, and soy protein. What they do: May reduce cholesterol. Foods: Edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso, soynuts.
- 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.
- Probiotics: Functional Components include “good for you” bacteria, typically lactobacillus. What they do: Support gastrointestinal (GI) health, may boost immunity. Foods: Yogurts supplemented with probiotics, fermented vegetables, and fermented soy products (i.e. tempeh).
- Nuts: Functional Components include 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.
- Grape Juice or Red Wine: Functional Component include resveratrol. What they do: Exhibit heart-healthy effects. Foods: 100% juice grape juice or grape juice mixtures; any variety of red wine.
- Leafy Greens: Functional Components include 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.