Newspapers, books and the web publish flashy articles regarding the advantages of eating “functional foods”. These foods are said to reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and coronary heart disease. Supermarkets sell breakfast cereals, probiotics like yogurt and energy bars with similar health benefits proclaimed on their packaging.
What is a functional food and how’s that different from a fortified food?
Firstly, all foods which have physiological benefits like proteins that aid in muscle repair, carbohydrates that help in gaining energy and vitamins and minerals to assist in cell function are said to be functional foods. The term ‘functional food’ was first introduced in Japan in the 1980s and refers to processed foods containing ingredients that aid in specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious. To date, Japan is the only country that has formulated a specific regulatory approval process for functional foods and currently, 100 products are listed under this category. In America, the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board defines functional foods as “any food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains” while the category is not recognized legally.
Meanwhile, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as: "whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence."
There are four categories of functional foods:
Food fortification is the process of adding micronutrients (essential trace elements and vitamins) to food. Many products now boast of these added nutrients in them. Such nutrients are said to elevate the nutritional content of a food and are also prescribed as part of a healthy diet plan.
Renowned dietitians/nutritionists worldwide suggest the given below fortified foods:
Heart is the most special organ in the human body. It is our duty to maintain the health of our heart. Most of the adults as well as kids consume too much sodium which can lead to high blood pressure resulting in heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. It is shocking to know that an average child consumes more than twice the amount of sodium required by the body daily.
Think Out of the Box
Think out of the box while cooking. Try to replace salt with every other low-sodium seasoning or spice possible. Opt for fresh lemon or lime juice, fresh herbs or salt-free herb blends and vinegar to enhance the flavour of your favourite dishes while maintaining the nutrient contents.
Even with all these substitutes we may be reducing a maximum of 10 percent of our day’s sodium intake, as this is the amount of salt we add during cooking or at the table. The main culprits for increased sodium content in our body are packaged and processed foods which contribute to more than 75 percent of the sodium we eat.
Children eat what we cook. If we habituate them to more salt right from childhood they would seek for food with increased salt content as they grow. This will lead to a ‘salt tooth’ which may cause health problems in life later. Hence it is our responsibility to limit salt right from their childhood age by cooking with low-sodium alternatives.
Check Nutrition Labels
Nutrition facts panel plays a key role in helping to select foods (canned, frozen and packaged) that have reduced salt content in them. This is because the amount of sodium in foods differs brand to brand by hundreds of milligrams. The website www.firsteatright.com contains detailed information on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
Opt for High-Potassium and Low-Sodium Foods
The foods we eat contain too much of sodium and too little of potassium in our diet. Whole and unprocessed foods are naturally low in sodium and are good diet foods. Fruits and veggies are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral which helps to balance blood pressure, with minimum sodium contained in them. Children below 13 years of age require around 3,000 to 4,500 milligrams of potassium per day while others required 4,700 milligrams daily. Potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, bananas, oranges and raisins are some of the vegetables and fruits which have maximum potassium content in them. Make it a must to eat at least 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily which serves the dual purpose of meeting your daily potassium demands and reducing the intake of sodium-packed processed foods on your plate.
Glycemic index is the measure of how quickly the food we eat causes our blood sugar levels to rise.
This measure ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100. Foods with a high glycemic index (GI), such as pizza (80) and baked potatoes without the skin (98), cause a rapid rise in blood sugar as they are quickly digested and absorbed.
Foods rich in fiber, protein and/or fat have a low GI and are digested and absorbed at a slower rate, causing a slow rise in blood sugar levels. Apples with a GI of 28 and peanuts with a GI of 7 are excellent examples of these. Don’t assume that foods which are low on GI are high on nutrients. You need to choose healthy foods from all five food groups for a balanced and healthy diet.
Consuming a diet rich in low-GI food is best suited to achieve and maintain a healthy weight as these foods help to keep us full for longer time periods. Low-GI diets have also been shown to improve insulin resistance and lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes and foods suitable for people affected by this disease are discussed in detail in the website www.firsteatright.com.
It is best suited to consume a low-GI diet except after an intense workout session. After these exercise schedules it is recommended to eat high-GI foods. High-GI foods are rapidly digested and hence, they aid in muscle recovery.
An Inexact but Helpful Measure
A food’s GI ranking denotes the value accurately only when the food is consumed on an empty stomach without any other type of food. But all of us are aware that this scenario is not practically possible. A pizza might be a stand-alone meal, but how often do we eat a plain potato without anything else? Add a side of broccoli, lean steak and a salad with low-fat dressing which would naturally fulfill your protein, fiber and fat requirements, thereby lowering the glycemic index.
The glycemic index is not dependent on the quantity of food we consume. The GI value of a food is determined by giving people a serving of the food that contains 50 grams of carbohydrate minus the fiber, then measuring the effect on their blood glucose levels over the next two hours.
Though a serving of 50 grams of carbs in one shot maybe reasonable for a food like rice, which contains 53 grams of carbs per cup, this is impractical for foods like beets. Though beets have a GI ranking of 64, they have just 13 grams of carbs per cup. This means that we need to consume nearly 4 cups of beets for the blood sugar levels to rise.
An Alternative to Glycemic Index
Glycemic load (GL) is a formula that corrects for potentially misleading GI by combining portion size and GI into one number. The carbohydrate content of the actual serving is multiplied by the food’s GI, then that number is divided by 100. So for a cup of beets, the GL would be: 13 times 64 = 832 divided by 100 = a GL of 8.3.
For reference, a GL having a value greater than 20 is considered high, between 11 and 19 is considered moderate and 10 or less is considered low.
In a nutshell: Though glycemic index is not a perfect system, it helps to spot low-glycemic foods that are more nutrient-dense and avoid foods high in refined carbohydrates.
Does your family have one of those finicky eaters who convey their disinterest through gestures when a particular food they dislike is served to them??? Rather than following the routine way of dealing, surprise them with this simple question: “How can I make it better for you?”
The question, once put forward can work wonders with your children as it makes them feel more involved in planning their meal. This also works as a two-way switch making you feel more relaxed as you now clearly know what your child desires.
Choosing the apt words to question your little one is the vital element in bringing about a change for the better. Rather than putting forward a question like “Why don’t you like it?” a positive question allows for constructive problem-solving and progressive solutions.
Make It Better
Though the question “How can I make that better for you?” may not trigger an instantaneous response from your child, it will set his/her brains ticking. Here are some common complaints and suggested solutions (note that nuts and seeds are choking hazards for children under 4 years):
Caution: Solutions that work today may not work tomorrow. The simple question “How can I make that better for you?” will bring in different answers but you can be sure of getting some answer. Also, if you would like to try healthy and nutritious recipes that would be relished by your child, you can always find them at www.firsteatright.com. The suggestions above can help you avoid annoying mealtimes and make dining an enjoyable experience.
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.