Natural Health and Wellness for the Whole Family

Functional Foods

By Sarah Axtell, ND July 24, 2014

One of my favorite sayings, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” is getting renewed interest lately. Functional foods are defined as any healthy food claimed to have health-promoting or disease-preventing properties beyond the basic function of supplying energy or calories. Today, these foods tend to be processed and fortified with vitamins or minerals. An example of a popular functional food that has gotten some media coverage is Cheerios and its ability to lower cholesterol.

In 2009, the FDA said in a warning letter to General Mills that language on the Cheerios box suggests the cereal is designed to prevent or treat heart disease. Regulators said that only FDA-approved drugs are allowed to make such claims.

But there is in fact solid science behind soluble fiber and its ability to lower cholesterol, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease. Now, I am not proposing that everyone go out and eat Cheerios every morning. What I am proposing is that you consume soluble fiber from REAL food. And REAL food is what I call FUNCTIONAL foods due to their health promoting and disease-preventing properties.

FLAX
Flax is an excellent source of soluble fiber (you know, the kind of fiber found in cheerios). The soluble fiber found in flax can lower LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) AND can regulate blood sugar (ie. great for diabetes). In addition to soluble fiber, flax contains omega-3 fatty acids, which is anti-inflammatory. As if all this wasn’t enough, flax seeds can help regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle. A dosage of 2-4 tablespoons of ground flax everyday for the first 15 days of a woman’s cycle promotes the estrogen dominant follicular phase. This is paired with 2-4 tablespoons of ground sunflower seeds for the second half of a woman’s cycle to promote the progesterone dominant luteal phase. For ideas on how to incorporate more flax into your or your child’s diet, see post on seeds.

FERMENTED FOODS
There are ads all over tv for Activia yogurt, claiming to regulate your digestive tract within 2 weeks. Jaime Lee Curtiss does make a pretty convincing argument. It’s true- probiotics (“good” bacteria) do wonders to your GI tract. However, I am arguing a better source of probiotics is in fermented foods. These foods include tempeh, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi. See post on fermented foods for more info.

CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES
These vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower, and consumption of these veggies are linked to a decreased cancer risk AND the promotion of liver detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables contain a substance called indole-3 carbonyl, which promotes the induction of phase I and II detoxification reactions. In other words, broccoli loves your liver! Indole-3 carbonyl may also reduce cancer risk by modulating estrogen metabolism. Translation- brussel sprouts makes your breasts happy!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…it all comes down to eating REAL food. To me, a functional food is not sugar-laden yogurt in a green container with a catchy tune. Functional foods are foods that are natural, come from the earth, and are vibrant in color.

Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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