What are functional foods?
Almost all food can be deemed as a functional or healing food. Because all foods can provide us with taste, aroma and at least some nutritional value. However, there are certain foods out there that have been researched for their physiological benefits. These foods might be able to help reduce risks of chronic disease or they may be able to help us optimize our health.
The concept of “functional food” first began in Japan in the 1980s in the face of rising healthcare costs. Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare developed a regulatory system to approve certain foods with researched health benefits in the hopes of improving the country’s aging population. These foods, which bear a special seal, are recognized as Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU). Nearly 300 food products have been granted this status as of July 2002.
Since then, many organizations in the United States have also proposed their own definitions for this food category. The National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board have defined functional foods as “any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains”.
Top Functional Foods to Introduce to Your Diet
It may come as a surprise, but there are many different foods that are considered as functional foods. Many of them can be regularly found at your dinner table on any given night. Here are some common examples of foods that heal.
Broccoli is part of the cabbage family and it is commonly grown in most parts of the world. You can usually get it year-round in your local grocery store. But, unfortunately, many children aren’t too crazy about eating it.
However, many families still include it in their regular diet. Broccoli has many medicinal properties and is a great example of a top functional food.
Broccoli has a great amount of lutein which helps improve eyesight and eye health. Lutein helps prevent the development of cataracts, has antioxidant properties and helps filter out blue light. It is a great food to eat if you spend a lot of time in front of the computer.
Consuming a high amount of broccoli can help you strengthen your immune system, since it is also high in Vitamin C. This means eating broccoli during the cold and flu season can be pretty beneficial.
Some other benefits of broccoli include:
-Prevents muscle cramps
-Helps with memory
-Helps reduce cognitive decline
-Protects men against prostate cancer
-Helps prevent breast cancer in women
Ginger is native to India, and is used regularly in cooking and traditional medicine in Asian cuisine. Ginger helps fight nausea and many pregnant women or those who suffer from motion sickness rely on it to help them get through their symptoms as it naturally helps to fight nausea. Ginger is also known to help with indigestion.
-Other benefits of ginger include:
-Helps reduce menstrual cramps
-Can alleviate cold and flu symptoms
-Soothes irritation in the throat
Similar to broccoli, cauliflower belongs to the cruciferous family. These days, cauliflower is grown in most parts of the world and can be enjoyed year-round. Cauliflower can help reduce the chances of getting cancer because it contains glucosinolates and sulforaphane. These compounds can not only prevent certain cancers, but they can even fight cancers that might be caused through genetics.
In particular, cauliflower can reduce the risk of cancers of the bladder, prostate, breast, colon, skin, ovaries and blood. And it can also prevent cancer from spreading or coming back.
-Other benefits of cauliflower include:
As with ginger, turmeric is a spice that is used widely in Asian cuisines and medicine. It is known as a spice with anticarcinogenic properties and is effective against certain types of cancers like breast and pancreatic cancer. Consuming turmeric can also help reduce cancer cells. In the body. Turmeric contains high levels of curcumin and it can be a powerful antioxidant, which means that it helps protect the body from oxidation, improving your overall well-being and health.
Turmeric, which is widely eaten in India, may be a reason that there is a large gap between the rates of cancers in India compared to Western countries.
-Other benefits of turmeric include:
-Helps stimulate digestion and bile secretion
-Is anti-inflammatory which helps with osteoarthritis, heartburn, acne and more
Chickpeas come from the legume family and they originate from the eastern Mediterranean. Chickpeas are typically grown in drier soils found in Spain, Turkey, India and Southern France. They are great to eat if you are trying to lower your bad cholesterol levels. Research shows that eating a daily serving of chickpeas could help you lower your cholesterol by 5 percent.
Chickpeas also act as a tonic which can help aid digestion and the health of your gut flora. They can also help boost your mood thanks to its tryptophan content, which is an amino acid that helps fight off symptoms of depression. Chickpeas can be a great addition to your diet during the darker winter months.
Lemon is a citrus fruit that grows from trees and is imbued with many different healthy healing properties. Lemons are highly antiseptic and antibacterial. It’s great for your immune system, and is particularly good at fighting ear, nose and throat issues such as bronchitis, angina, influenza, ear infections and more.
Lemon can also help prevent certain types of cancer such as esophagus, stomach, colon, mouth, pharynx and more.
Asparagus is native to the eastern Mediterranean basin. The parts that are edible come from the rhizomes where the buds in the ground start, which grow spears up between 3 to 5 feet from the soil. Asparagus is now widely grown in many countries since it doesn’t need much rich soil.
Asparagus is great for your gut health. It is a fibrous veggie that has draining properties that allow your intestines to properly flush out toxins. It has a significant content of inulin, which is good for the digestive system because it helps your intestines function properly. Asparagus actually optimizes your bowel movements.
Other benefits of asparagus include:
-Prevents cardiovascular disease
-Prevents some cancers such as lung, colon, uterus, etc.
-Helps fetus growth during pregnancy
There are many other functional foods out there that can benefit your health with a balanced diet, and it would be impossible to include them all here. If you’re interested in learning more about foods that can improve your wellbeing, then you can continue to read our blog and check out our other posts about foods that can help you mitigate the risks of chronic disease and provide you with the nutrients you need to optimize your health.
Clare M. Hasler, Functional Foods: Benefits, Concerns and Challenges—A Position Paper from the American Council on Science and Health, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 132, Issue 12, December 2002, Pages 3772–3781, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/132.12.3772
Hasler CM, Kundrat S, Wool D. Functional foods and cardiovascular disease. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2000;2(6):467-475. doi:10.1007/s11883-000-0045-9