Friday, 25 May 2012

FUNCTIONAL FOODS

Seeing is not always believing.
We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them.
It is a difficult matter to argue with the belly since it has no ears.

Hippocrates wisely stated back in 400 BC, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Modern research has validated this doctrine. Today we know that what we eat is a major determinant of health, and that food provides both nutritive and healing properties.
Functional foods, as defined by the International Food Information Council, are “foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutri- tion.” In other words, these foods provide more than just vitamins and minerals; they contain compounds that have beneficial actions in the body and can reduce the risk of chronic disease. These are foods that you want to include more of in your daily diet. Below are some examples of functional foods and their associated health benefits.

• Apples provide both soluble and insoluble fibre (one medium apple with skin pro- vides about 3 g of fibre). Apple skins are a major food source of a type of flavonoid called quercetin, which is a potent antioxidant that helps protect against heart disease and cancer. These flavonoids, along with vitamin C, give apples immune-bolstering properties. Phenolic compounds found in apple skins provide protection against many chronic diseases and have recently been found to provide UVB sun protection. So there is a lot of truth to the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Fuji apples have the highest concentration of phenolic and flavonoid compounds, but Red Delicious apples are also quite high.

• Berries, cherries, and red grapes contain plant pigments called anthocyanidins, which give these fruits their radiant red and purple colour. Anthocyanidins have antioxidant properties, preventing free radical damage and reducing the risk of chronic disease. These compounds are also important for proper brain and blood vessel function.

• Broccoli contains sulphoraphane and indole-3 carbinol, antioxidants that neutral- ize free radicals, enhance detoxification, and may reduce the risk of cancer. These compounds are found in other cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, cauliflower, and cabbage. Try to have a serving of these foods every day.

• Carrots are an excellent source of many antioxidant compounds, particularly beta-carotene, which is part of the carotenoids. Carotenoids help protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer, macular degeneration, and cataracts, and they also promote good night vision. New research is looking at the effects of another phytonutrient in carrots, called falcarinol, and its ability to reduce the risk of colon cancer. To get the maximum amount of nutrients from carrots, eat them raw or lightly steamed.

• Chocolate and cocoa provide various flavonoids that provide antioxidant benefits for the heart and other organs. Dark chocolate contains more antioxidants and less fat than milk chocolate. Look for products that contain 70 percent or more cocoa.

• Citrus fruits contain flavanones (a type of flavonoid), antioxidants that reduce free radicals, prevent cellular damage, and boost defences against viral infections. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes offer a wide range of nutrients (vitamin C, folate, and fibre).

• Collard greens and kale contain plant pigments called lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health and can reduce the risk of macular degeneration (age- related blindness). Supplements of lutein have been shown to improve vision in those with macular degeneration and prevent disease progression. One to two serv- ings of kale or collard greens per week provide the recommended amount of lutein and zeaxanthin. Other food sources include spinach, broccoli, and leeks, but they contain a lesser amount.

• Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, which have been shown to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. Preliminary research also shows that these compounds may help lower cholesterol, improve gum health, prevent ulcers, and prevent brain damage after a stroke. The bladder benefits are seen with one to two glasses of juice daily. Look for pure cranberry juice or low-sugar juice cocktail.

• Fish and fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which have been found to reduce risk of coronary heart disease. Specifically, they reduce triglycer- ides, increase HDL (good cholesterol), reduce inflammation, prevent clotting, and reduce blood pressure. They are also known to be beneficial for vision and brain health. Choose wild (not farmed) fish.
GET YOUR OMEGA-3S
The recommended intake of fish oils for heart health is 1–3 g daily from supplements or one to two servings of fish per week. Sadly, our fish supply is contaminated with PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides, which increase the risk of cancer. Farmed fish, especially salm- on, contains the highest amount of toxins. Health authorities recommend consuming no more than six meals per year of farmed salmon. Wild Pacific salmon has fewer toxins and can be eaten once or twice a month. You can also get your omega-3s through a fish oil supplement. Look for a quality product that is tested for purity and provides at least DHA and EPA.

• Flaxseed provides lignans, plant compounds with antioxidant activity that may protect against heart disease and some cancers. (It lowers LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.) Flaxseed is a good source of dietary fibre (14 g of fibre per 50 g serving) and is thus used to relieve constipation and to treat ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Flaxseed also contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. To obtain all the benefits, eat the milled flaxseed or get whole seeds and crush them in a food processor or coffee grinder. Take 15 mL (1 tbsp) once or twice daily. Store milled seeds in the refrigerator or freezer in an opaque, airtight container; they will be stable for 90 days.

• Garlic contains sulphur compounds, which offer a number of health benefits. Studies have shown that garlic mildly reduces cholesterol, reduces LDL oxidation (atheroscle- rosis), prevents blood clotting, and fights cancer. It also possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. Studies have found benefits with as little as 900 mg of garlic per day, which is approximately equivalent to one clove.

• Ginger has a long history of use for relieving stomach problems. Clinical studies have validated its benefits for preventing the symptoms of motion sickness (especially seasickness) and in the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with pregnan- cy. The active compounds in ginger, called gingerols, have potent anti-inflammatory effects, making it helpful in the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory condi- tions. New research suggests that ginger may also help fight cancer. Choose fresh ginger over the dry (powder) form to maximize intake of the active compounds.

• Green tea is rich in catechins (a type of flavonoid) called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This compound has been found to reduce the risk of certain cancers, reduce the size of existing tumours, and inhibit tumour growth. It also sup- ports heart function by lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of fatal heart attacks. EGCG also supports nerve function and may benefit Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Recently EGCG has been found to reduce body fat and improve metabolism. Most studies evaluating the health benefits of green tea in- volved drinking 750–2,500 mL daily. Black tea, white tea, Oolong tea, and other teas derived from the plant Camellia sinesis may offer similar health benefits but are not as widely researched.

• Oat bran contains a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have found that 3 g of beta-glucan daily can reduce total cholesterol by an average of 5 percent. This amount can be found in approximately 60 g of oatmeal or 40 g of oat bran. Other good forms of soluble fibre are psyllium, apples, and beans.

• Onions contain a variety of nutrients, such as vitamin C and chromium. Powerful sulphur compounds in onions are responsible for their pungent odour and for many of their health benefits. They can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Onions provide a concentrated source of the flavonoid quercitin, which helps reduce inflammation and may halt the growth of cancer. Cooking meats with onions may help reduce the amount of carcinogens produced when meat is cooked at high heat. There are many varieties of onions. In general, the more pungent an onion, the more active compounds and health benefits it has.

• Soybeans contain isoflavones (daidzein and genistein), which help reduce choles- terol levels, fight cancer, increase bone density, and reduce menopausal symptoms. Research suggests that consuming 25 g of soy protein daily can provide a significant cholesterol-lowering effect. Aside from soybeans and tofu, you can get the benefits of soy protein by eating soy nuts, soy milk, soy yogurt, and bars and shakes con- taining soy protein.

• Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene, which has been found to reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancer, support prostate health, reduce blood clotting and inflammation, and reduce heart attack risk. Most studies found health benefits with an intake of 8–10 mg daily. Lycopene is also present in tomato sauce, tomato paste, and ketchup, which contain a higher amount of lycopene than fresh toma- toes. To obtain 10 mg of lycopene, you would have to eat about 10–15 raw tomatoes, 60 mL (2 oz.) of ketchup, or 20 mL (4 tsp) of tomato paste. Lycopene is also found in papaya, strawberries, watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit.

• Yogurt contains active bacteria cultures known as probiotics or friendly bacteria, which improve gastrointestinal health (digestion and elimination) and immune function. These active cultures also help digest the naturally occurring sugar (lac- tose) in dairy products that causes bloating and diarrhea in some people. Avoid the “diet” or “light” yogurts, since they are sweetened with aspartame, a chemical whose safety in food is questionable. The amount of probiotics in yogurt varies with brand and storage. For this reason those looking for the consistent benefits of probiotics often opt for supplements.

Many compounds found in functional foods are available in supplement form. Supplements often provide a standardized amount of the active compounds, they are easy to take, and are a great way to complement the diet.
The health benefits make functional foods worthy of inclusion in your daily diet. Try to have a few each day. Look for organic products to reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides.

Man shall not live by bread alone.