Functional foods and improved quality of life

The whole notion of functional foods was born in Japan in 1980 to introduce foods which actively promote health whilst combatting and reducing the risk of disease. Health authorities recognized that an improved quality of life must accompany increasing life expectancy for the expanding number of elderly people in the population, if health care costs were to be controlled.

There is now growing scientific evidence to support the fact that certain food components have beneficial physiological and psychological effects beyond merely providing nutrients.

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Many traditional foods including fruit, vegetables, soy, whole grains and milk have been found to contain components with potential health benefits. In addition to these, new foods are being developed to enhance or incorporate these beneficial components for their health benefits and desirable physiological effects.

Specific minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, dietary fibre or biologically active substances are found in these foods. The incentive for researchers is to study many food types closely and deeply and identify those functional foods that potentially improve health and well-being and prevent, reduce or delay the risk of major diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

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The most notable foods

– Yogurt with live cultures: provides optimal intestinal function and microbial balance though probiotics and prebiotics. Reduces risk of colon cancer and inflammation.

– Quinoa: 8 grams of hunger-busting protein and lots of fiber in one cup, along with iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E.

– Cinnamon: has powerful medicinal properties and its use has been dated back to the Ancient Egyptians. It stabilizes blood sugar levels; can curb appetite, particularly in people with type 2 diabetes. Rich in antioxidants it works very well in tackling free radicals. It has also been linked to a reduction in heart disease.

– Green Tea: this is a tremendously healthy drink. It promotes weight loss by stimulating the body to burn abdominal fat. To get the most benefit you may need to drink green tea several times a day. It is loaded with polyphenols,  flavonoids and catechins which function as powerful antioxidants. These protect the body’s cells and molecules from damage by free radicals.

– Watermelon is low in calories, a good source of the antioxidant lycopene and vitamin A and C.

– Beans: rich in protein and a great source of fiber, to help you stay full with few calories.

– Oatmeal: fiber-rich, very filling, reduces high cholesterol. Stirring in cinnamon or nutmeg will give a sweet taste with less sugar.

– Garlic: reduces risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It is another herb that has thousands of application of use and records show that it was in common use when the Giza pyramids were built! Hippocrates (460-370 BC) the ‘Father of Modern Medicine’ was know to prescribe garlic for a number of illnesses and conditions.

– Grapefruit: can help you feel full with fewer calories. Half a grapefruit or a glass of grapefruit juice before a meal helps eat less.

Functional foods offer great potential to improve health and/or help prevent certain diseases, when taken as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle and with the right frequency and amounts.

To read more about Jessica Faissal, visit her Expert Profile.

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