27 NOVEMBER 2015

Fancy some ‘functional foods’?


It may surprise you to know that our everyday foods may contain biologically-active compounds that can give us additional functions towards our health.

These foods, such as tea, chocolate and fruits and vegetables, if eaten in moderation and in a balanced way, will enable us to fight certain diseases as well as fortify our bodies when we are fighting diseases such as cancer.

 

What are functional foods?

Functional foods are foods that have additional functions – foods that have added benefits beyond basic nutrition. They are said to be able to promote health and reduce the risk of disease.

There are three categories of functional foods, as stated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: conventional foods (e.g.: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, fish), modified foods (e.g.: ready-to-eat cereals fortified with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) and food ingredients (e.g.: indigestible carbohydrates such as resistant starch that encourages better gastric motility and digestion).

All these foods contain certain compounds or nutrients that help the body fight diseases or strengthen immunity in some way.

 

Nutrients in functional foods

Functional foods should be viewed as an additional means to reduce risk of disease and to promote good health.

An overall healthy and balanced diet is still the best strategy to achieve good health and prevent illnesses. Here are some essential nutrients and how you can find them:

 

Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant which fights free radicals, which are known cancer-causing agents.

Conventional foods that contain beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, and other bright orange, red and yellow foods. Juices can also be fortified with beta-carotene to become functional foods.

 

B-glucan

The potential anti-cancer function of B-glucan is how it can boost your immune system, improve cardiovascular health and attain better sugar control.

Conventional foods that contain B-glucan include barley, oats, fruits, vegetables, and some fungi (mushrooms). B-glucan enriched breakfast cereals, bread, snack bars, bran products and milk beverages are among those in the fortified foods category.

 

Genistein (category of isoflavones)

Genistein is an antioxidant as well as a phytoestrogen (meaning it contains estrogen-like chemicals). It helps to reduce risk of osteoporosis and ease symptoms of menopause.

Genistein is found in most soy food, including edamame, tofu and soy milk. It is also added to many foods such as energy bars to fortify them.

 

Inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)

The anti-cancer function of inulin and FOS is how it helps to increase bone health while reducing the amount of triglycerides in the body. It also helps with the body’s prebiotic activity, ensuring better digestion.

Conventional food sources of inulin include onions, shallots, asparagus, garlic, wheat and banana. Inulin and FOS are also added to beverages and jellies to fortify them.

 

Lycopene

This nutrient is an antioxidant and has positive effects on decreasing one’s chances of prostate cancer.

Lycopene can be found in tomatoes, watermelons, pink guava, and most red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Fortified versions of lycopene include tomato ketchup and juices.

 

By Charmaine Ng

Information provided by Parkway Cancer Centre’s CanHOPE.
Pictures taken from “Awakening the appetite”, a recipe book published by Parkway Cancer Centre.

POSTED IN Nutrition
TAGS cancer diet & nutrition, healthy food & cooking, prevent cancer