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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Functional Foods

Have you ever heard of a functional food? Functional foods, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), are “foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.”

Functional foods can be as simple as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but many functional foods are fortified or enhanced foods and beverages. Functional foods contain biologically active components that have certain health benefits beyond just the vitamins, minerals, carbs, proteins, fats, etc. that we had already previously known about.

I am going to devote the next several blog entries to functional foods. I am going to talk about the ‘component’ in the food that makes it so healthy and then give examples of foods you can eat to get it. Here are some functional foods to get started:

Prebiotics and Probiotics

What is it? Inulin, Fructo-oligosaccahrides, Polydextrose
Where is it? Whole grains, onions, some fruits, garlic, honey, leeks, fortified foods and beverages (read labels)
What does it do? May improve gastrointestinal (GI) health, may improve calcium absorption

What is it? Yeast, lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and other specific strains of beneficial bacteria
Where is it? Certain yogurts and other cultured dairy products (read labels) You may recognize Activia, DanActive, Stoneyfield yogurt, Horizon yogurt and cottage cheese
What does it do? May improve GI health, may improve immunity, benefits vary depending on the strain of bacteria

Soy Protein
What is it? Protein extracted from soybeans
Where is it? Soybeans, soy protein powder, meat analogs (vegetarian fake meat products like veggie burgers, sausage, chic patties, etc)
What does it do? May reduce risk of heart disease
See previous blog on soy protein

What is it? Isoflavones like Daidzein and Genistein; Lignans
Where is it? Isoflavones are in soybeans and soy-based foods; Lignans are in flax, rye, sesame, and some vegetables
What does it do? May contribute to heart health, brain and immune function, and bone health. In addition, isoflavones may assist in reduction of menopausal symptoms in women

More examples of Functional Foods to come!

Photo of flax seeds courtesy of digiyesica
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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