Published On: Thu, Aug 9th, 2012

Functional foods

Functional foods

-By Erin Macdonald, R.D. 

What if I told you that there are certain foods and food compounds that may improve your health, reverse certain diseases, and reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes? Would you be interested in eating your way to better health rather than be popping pills in the morning and evening? Welcome to the world of functional foods.

Functional foods are foods, herbs, spices, supplements, and fortified foods and beverages that contain specific compounds that have been shown to have health-promoting effects. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, the top ten functional foods are: Fruits/vegetables, fish/oil, dairy, herbs/spices, whole grains, fiber, meat/poultry, tea/green tea, nuts, and supplements. Foods in each of these categories contain at least one important compound that has health promoting properties. From lutein, which supports the maintenance of eye health, to omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseeds, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of these vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers are too great to ignore.

Here are a few of these functional components, the foods in which they are found, and their health benefits:


Insoluble fiber wheat bran, corn bran, Fruit skin maintenance of digestive health;
may decrease risk of certain cancers
Lycopene tomatoes, watermelon, pink/red grapefruit supports maintenance of prostate health; best absorbed cooked with healthy fat
Monounsaturated fatty acids almonds, avocado, olive oil, canola oil may reduce coronary heart disease
Anthocyanins berries, cherries, red grapes boost cellular antioxidant defenses; supports maintenance of healthy brain function
Flavanols tea, cocoa, chocolate,apples, grapes supports maintenance of heart health
Selenium fish, red meat, whole grains, garlic, eggs neutralizes free radicals which may damage
Prebiotics (Inulin, fructooligosaccharides, polydextrose) Whole grains, onions, garlic, honey, leeks, banana supports maintenance of digestive health; helps with calcium absorption
Lignans flax seeds, rye, some vegetables, lentils, triticale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots Supports maintenance of heart and immune health
Soy soybeans, soynuts, soymilk, tofu may reduce risk of CHD
Dithiolthiones cruciferous vegetables may enhance detoxification of undesirable compounds; supports maintenance of healthy immune system



Steel cut oats cooked in soymilk, sprinkled with ground cinnamon and vanilla extract, topped with ground flax seed and organic berries; green tea

Raw almonds and a banana; water

Black beans, salsa, guacamole stuffed into corn tortillas; iced green tea

Edamame; water

Mediterranean fish stew; water or decaf green tea

Berries topped with nonfat plain Greek yogurt (stir some lemon zest into yogurt)


  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2 Carrots, chopped
  • Orange and yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Pinch saffron
  • ¾ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1 qt. fish stock
  • 1 (14 oz.) can  San Marzano plum tomatoes with juice
  • 2 tbs. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp. grated orange zest
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 pounds mixed fish (salmon, sea bass, swordfish, red snapper, shrimp) OR 1 pound mixed fish and 1 pound baby clams, scrubbed


  1. Coat a large soup pot with nonstick cooking spray or 1 tsp. olive oil. When hot, add onion, carrot, and peppers and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and saffron and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add vermouth or wine and simmer until reduced by ½.  Add Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Crush tomatoes into the pot, stir in their juice and tomato paste and stir to blend in tomato paste. Add fish stock, orange zest, bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer, covered for 1 hour. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary with salt and pepper.
  3. Uncover pot and increase heat to a brisk simmer. Add fish, cover and cook 5-10 minutes, until fish is opaque. Add vinegar and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve and enjoy.




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