More and more people are becoming health conscious and that doesn’t mean you have to be a health nut or obsessed with counting calories. Even everyday consumers who normally don’t think much about their health are taking the time to do research on what types of foods they should be incorporating into their daily lives. Functional foods play an essential role in overall well being so it helps to know what functional foods are and how you can get more of them into your life.
In the simplest terms, functional foods basically describe food and drinks that offer health benefits along with their natural nutritional properties. More functional foods are being discovered in medical studies each year, offering hope to many with ailments and chronic conditions. The majority of functional foods are the type that has been found to reduce certain cancers, as well as treat and prevent illness. Because of such discoveries, these foods are also known as medicinal foods, designer foods, or nutraceuticals.
While most functional foods are recognized for its natural abundance of nutritional properties that can boost the immune system and overall health, there are other types of food that are fortified or enhanced to make them more potent. Examples of this type of food include orange juice with extra calcium added, and low fat versions of foods and drinks, such as skim milk or low fat cheese. While a good number of food items and beverages offer some sort of nutrition, not all of them classify as a functional food. In order to meet functional food criteria, the food item or beverage needs to be linked to a specific health benefit as well as provide natural nutritional benefits.
The various ways functional foods can impact and improve our health include: antibacterial properties, enzyme stimulation, antioxidants, hormonal action, and interference with DNA. When certain foods provide antibacterial properties, this means it can prevent harmful bacteria from forming within the body. Foods that are able to stimulate enzymes are ideal for triggering reactions that can actually reduce the risk of developing certain diseases by eliminating cancer causing cells or neutralizing those present in the body. Food and beverages abundant in antioxidants provide the body with the ability to eliminate and treat cellular damage by free radicals, as well as prevent the growth of cancerous cells and can lower the risk of heart disease. In terms of hormonal action, functional foods can actually imitate existing hormones (specifically estrogen) in the body, which can aid in problems such as hot flashes, high cholesterol, and even osteoporosis. Functional foods that are able to interfere with DNA are vital for fighting and eliminating cancer cells.
Examples of common functional foods include: tomatoes, oats, orange juice, multigrain cereal, flaxseed oil, milk, flour, low-fat foods, fat-free foods, and tea, among many others.
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