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Take Two Artichokes and Call Me In The Morning - The Benefits of Functional Foods
By Rick Morris
The time is coming when you may start hearing this from your family doctor. Nutritionists and alternative medicine professionals are already beginning to prescribe specific foods for the treatment and prevention of certain diseases and illnesses.
So what exactly are functional foods?
Basically, functional foods or superfoods are foods that have disease preventative or health promoting benefits. This means benefits beyond the normal life giving benefits of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. All foods have components that provide the substances necessary to support a functional body. Functional foods are used to treat or prevent specific diseases or illnesses.
While the current popularity of functional foods is new, the use of foods to cure illnesses goes back many years. Early Chinese medicine made wide used of superfoods almost 2000 years ago.
Many of the early home remedies in the United States were based on the concept of functional foods. With the advances of modern medicine in the mid 1900’s, the use of foods and other natural cures, lost favor and was replaced by drugs. The trend is just now reversing back towards more natural cures and preventatives.
Whether we like it or not, trends are market driven. Trends begin with the change in the attitude and desires of consumers. The potential profit to manufacturers is what gives the trend momentum. The food and drug industry is picking up on the growing popularity of functional foods and other natural health care products. This is what will drive current and future research and development in the field.
The size of the functional food industry has been currently estimated at approximately $80 billion in the United States, with a future potential estimate of over $250 billion. Many major food companies, including Kellogg and Nestle, have entire divisions dedicated to the industry.
The components of functional foods that give the health benefit are called phytochemicals. Listed below are some phytochemicals, their benefits and sources.
This is a powerful antioxidant that is found in purple grape juice, berries, green and black tea, apples, garlic, onions and soy. You have probably read about the benefits of red wine. This is the phytochemical that give red wine its health benefits.
Flavanoids have been used to treat viral infections, inflammation, cancer and headaches. As one of the most powerful antioxidants currently known, it has great benefits in decreasing free radicals, which are known to cause cancer and heart disease.
This phytochemical is found mostly in soybeans. Soybeans are used in all soy based foods such as tofu, soy milk and soy protein supplements. Studies have shown that isoflavones decrease the incidence of certain cancers and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
This phytochemical is another that you have probably already heard about. Found in garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives, allyl sulfides reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. The benefit you have probably heard about is its function as an antimicrobial. The use of garlic has received much press in the past several years for its potential health benefits. You can now purchase garlic tablets and supplements in many forms. For full health benefits, garlic should be consumed in its natural, raw form. If you lose all of your friends, don’t blame me.
This is an essential fatty acid found in vegetable oils and flaxseed. You have already heard much talk about omega-3 fatty acids and its health benefits. Alpha-Linolenic acid is the parent compound of omega-3.
Studies show that alpha-linolenic acid may improve the function of the immune system, reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, reduce inflammation and lower blood cholesterol levels.
Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of alpha-linolenic acid. The flaxseed can be consumed by adding freshly ground seeds to your morning cereal or adding it to baked goods.
INDOLES AND ISOTHIOCYANATES
The most important properties of these phytochemicals are there ability to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, stomach, lung and rectum. This is another good reason to eat your dark green leafy’s. These compounds are found in broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, rutabaga and kohlrabi.
JUST WHAT YOUR MOTHER TOLD YOU
Millions of dollars have been spent on researching the benefits and isolating phytochemicals and functional foods. This is supplying is all with a wealth of information that will be of great benefit. Just look at what we are being told. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Isn’t that what mom told us?
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