What are Functional Foods?

By Marie Veselsky, RD, LD, CDE, BC-ADM

spices

Functional Foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Oatmeal is a familiar example of a functional food because it naturally contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. Some foods are modified to have health benefits. An example is orange juice that’s been fortified with calcium for bone health.

Spices have been used for centuries, not only to give food flavor, but also for their health benefits. Generally, the leaf of a plant used in cooking is referred to as an herb, and any other part of the plant, often dried, as a spice. National nutrition guidelines stress the importance of consuming a wide variety of food. Herbs and spices naturally fit within such programs.  Turmeric is an example of a functional food because research shows it is naturally anti-inflammatory and a slight blood thinner.

Another example of a functional food is chocolate. Chocolate contains cocoa butter, flavonoids, carbohydrates and vitamins. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer certain health benefits. They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found in plants.) There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds which are found in a wide variety of foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. They help protect plants by shielding them from environmental toxins and helping repair damage.

Obviously, foods such as twinkies, diet and regular sodas, processed carbs such as pies, cakes and cookies, would not be considered functional foods.

Where can you find functional foods?  Whatever was meant to sustain us or benefit us was put on this earth to begin with.   Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, raw nuts,  spices and herbs.

So remember the best bet to help promote good overall health is “healthy choices, healthy life,” which would include increasing the amount of “real foods” or functional foods into your diet and cut down on processed food especially processed carbs.

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Spice Up Your Life and Your Health!

By Marie Veselsky, MS, RD, LD, BC-ADM

Licensed Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator

spices

Spices have been used for centuries, not only to give food flavor, but also for their health benefits.  Generally, the leaf of a plant used in cooking is referred to as an herb, and any other part of the plant, often dried, as a spice.  National nutrition guidelines stress the importance of consuming a wide variety of food.  Herbs and spices naturally fit within such programs. So maybe it is time to “Spice up Your Life and Your Health!”

Here are a few common spices and their health benefits:

  • Rosemary neutralizes free radicals in the body.  This may give it anti-cancer fighting abilities.  Add it to chicken dishes.
  • Cinnamon has been found to help lower blood glucose and may help prevent heart disease.  A 2003 study found that about half a teaspoon each day lowered blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  It is also useful for improving the circulation and has anti-inflammatory and blood thinning properties.  Try adding a teaspoon to your coffee.
  • Curry Powder has been found to safeguard your brain.  The yellow curry pigment, curcumin, may fight Alzheimer’s by thwarting the development of plaques in the brain.   Add curry powder to mayonnaise to dress up sandwiches and try some new Indian dishes made with curry.
  • Garlic may improve your heart’s health. Studies suggest that an intake of between half and one clove per day can lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by an average of 10 percent.  One way to increase your garlic intake is to add minced garlic and chopped cucumber to plain yogurt for a light dip or salad dressing.
  • Chili Powder may help relieve achy joints.  Research shows that capsaicin, found in chili peppers, has an anti-inflammatory effect, which may ease arthritic swelling and pain. Add it to a batch of hot turkey chili.
  • Turmeric has been found to be anti-inflammatory and also is a slight blood thinner. Most disease states start with inflammation and Turmeric has been found to help with inflammation.

The safety of herbs (because they are a food) is very good, but if you take any medications, you should check with your doctor to make sure there are no potential food/drug interactions.  For an appointment with Marie call 603-770-4856 or 207-783-6800 in Maine.

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It’s Your Health and Your Choice! ™