The word also has often been criticised as being marketing bumph will no real science to back it up. Functional foods, however are changing all that.
We are beginning to get a deeper understanding of the importance of food in terms of health benefits beyond that of the just traditional view of nutrients i.e. macro- protein, carbs, fats and micro – vitamins and minerals. We are gaining knowledge via verified and quality scientific research into everything from antioxidants to polyphenols, to probiotics and essential fatty acids. Understanding how they can help prevent disease, by preventing inflammation and promoting function from the gut, liver, heart, brain and immune system. These foods really do promote optimal well-being.
The definition of a functional food is “functional food is a natural or processed food that contains known biologically-active compounds which when in defined quantitative and qualitative amounts provides a clinically proven and documented health benefit, and thus, an important source in the prevention, management and treatment of chronic diseases of the modern age”. In practice, it means that you can support your health and prevent disease by incorporating these functional foods into your everyday diet. One word of caution though, some functional food products are poor quality, highly processed and/or high in sugar. However, because they have that ‘magic’ health-benefiting ingredient they can be labelled as functional food. Look out for naturally occurring or naturally organic processed functional foods with little else added and you are probably on to a good thing.
Here are 5 of my top functional foods and how I like to incorporate them into my diet.
Oil of Life Premium – This cold-pressed organic oil is full of the omega 3, 6 and 9, but has a secret weapon in 250g of DHA (derived from algae) per serving. DHA is the form of omega 3 usually only found in fish, which is much more useful to us humans than the vegetable forms that come from flax and chia seeds. I use this to make salad dressings, dips such as hummus and pesto. As long as its unheated you can use it in place of whenever you would traditionally use olive oil.
Maca – a powder made from a radish-like root of the brassica family. It has been used in its native area, the central Andes of Peru, as both a food and a traditional medicine for over 2000 years. Rich in rich in vitamin B vitamins, C, and E, as well as, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and amino acids. It has been found to help balance male and female sex hormones, aiding fertility, hormonal acne, libido, moods and anxiety as well as being a natural caffeine-free boost of energy. It has to a caramel type taste so is good in smoothies, nut balls and brownies, almond milk maca hot chocolates, and even in banana bread.
Spirulina – is a powder made microscopic filamentous alga that is rich in proteins, vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals and essential fatty acids. Studies suggest several therapeutic effects ranging from reduction of cholesterol and cancer to enhancing the immune system, increasing intestinal lactobacilli, reducing nephrotoxicity by heavy metals and drugs and radiation protection. Add to green smoothies, nut balls or to homemade kale chips to add an extra super nutritious protein hit.
Raw Sauerkraut – honestly don’t knock it until you try it. This fermented cabbage dish has been shown by a number of studies to be anticancer, anti-obesity, anti-constipation, colorectal health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, fibrolytic effect, antioxidative and anti-aging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion. It is delicious in salads and sandwiches to add a crunch especially with oily fish such as mackerel. Just make sure you don’t heat it as this will destroy the beneficial probiotics and enzymes.
Aronia berry juice – Antioxidants are key to our health because they prevent oxidative stress. Oxidative stress damages cells, which in the long-term can lead to cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The aronia berry is one of natures highest know sources of antioxidants including tannins and proanthocyanins with 5 times that of blueberries or acai. Aronia berries are very low in fructose too. Add to smoothies or just with water as a refreshing beverage. In winter added to warmed unsweetened almond milk for a tasty warming drink.
Libby Limon BSc Nutritional Therapy, mBANT
Image credit: Because I’m Addicted