Hippocrates wisely stated back in 400 BC, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Modern research has validated this doctrine. Today we know that what we eat is a major determinant of our health, and that food provides both nutritive and healing properties.
In recent years there has been significant research on the therapeutic benefits of certain food. Functional foods, or superfoods as they are commonly known are foods that offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. In other words, these foods provide more than just vitamins and minerals—they contain compounds that have beneficial effects in the body. It is important to be aware of these foods as they can help improve your health and reduce disease risk. Below are some of my top recommended functional foods and their supplemental counterparts.
Rich in flavor and antioxidants garlic has a long history of use as a food and medicine. Modern research has demonstrated that garlic can offers a wide range of health benefits. Clinical studies have demonstrated that garlic supports heart health, boosts immune function, fights cancer, and much more. If you want the benefits of garlic without garlic breath consider taking a supplement of Aged Garlic Extract (Kyolic®). Studies conducted on this specific product have shown that it contains powerful compounds that help reduce multiple risk factors for heart disease (it lowers cholesterol and homocysteine levels, prevents clotting and reduces plaque formation in blood vessels); it help support immune system function (reducing duration of cold symptoms); and it aids detoxification (helps the body remove toxins). Studies have found benefits with as little as 900 mg garlic per day, which is approximately equivalent to one clove or one to two capsules of aged garlic extract.
The beautiful red color of tomatoes is due to the plant pigment lycopene – an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, support prostate health and reduce the damaging effects of UV light on the skin (provides an SPF of about 5). Some research also shows cancer-protecting effects. Studies with lycopene have found benefits with an intake of 10 to 30 mg daily. The average tomato contains about 3 mg lycopene. Processed tomato products (ketchup and tomato paste) contain higher amounts of lycopene. Other foods containing lycopene include papaya, strawberries, watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit. Lycopene is also found in supplement form. Look for product containing Lyc-O-Mato® a patented blend of lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene, the key antioxidants naturally present in tomatoes.
Consumed by the Chinese for about 5000 years, green tea is now one of the most popular beverages worldwide. Green tea contains a wide range of beneficial compounds, most notably, the antioxidant catechins called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and the amino acid L-theanine. Studies have shown that green tea can reduce the risk of certain cancers and inhibit tumor growth. It also supports heart function by lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of fatal heart attacks. EGCG and the naturally occurring caffeine in green tea helps reduce body fat and improve metabolism. Recent studies on a patented form of L-theanine, called Suntheanine® have found that it can reduce stress and promote relaxation while also improving mental clarity, focus and concentration. Most studies evaluating the health benefits of green tea involved drinking 3 to 10 cups daily. The recommended dosage of Suntheanine® is 50 to 200 mg daily or as needed.
Cranberries have a long history of use to prevent/treat urinary problems and prevent scurvy. Modern science has confirmed its bladder benefits. Cranberry contains antioxidants (proanthocyanidins) that prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. Numerous studies have shown that it can prevent bladder infections. Recent research has shown that cranberry is also good for gum health and lowering cholesterol. The bladder benefits are seen with one to two glasses of juice daily. Opt for pure cranberry juice or low-sugar juice cocktail. The most widely studied cranberry supplement is Cran-Max®, a full berry supplement containing all the key elements of the cranberry: the skin, seeds, pulp, juice and fiber. Studies on Cran-Max® have shown that it can significantly reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and provide a safer and more cost-effective alternative to prescription antibiotics.
Commonly used as a cooking spice to flavor foods and beverages ginger is also popular for its medicinal properties. It has a long history of use in alleviating gastrointestinal distress. Modern studies have found that ginger is effective for alleviating nausea, dizziness and vomiting caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy. Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which may help ease joint pain caused by arthritis.
Fresh raw ginger can be added to soups, stews and a variety of dishes. For nausea, ginger tea can be made by steeping one or two 1/2-inch slices of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water. For arthritis, some people have found relief consuming as little as a 1/4-inch slice of fresh ginger cooked in food, or taking it is supplement form.
Considering the wide range of health benefits functional foods are worthy of inclusion in your daily diet. Try to have a few each day or consider taking them in supplement form.