Here are the goods on the top five healthy functional foods that you might not know about:
This type of fibre is derived from the chicory root and is also classified as an oligosaccharide (a carbohydrate that has 3-10 simple sugars linked together). In addition to adding a naturally sweet taste to food, recent research shows that oligosaccharides have a beneficial 'pre-biotic' effect. In other words, oligosaccharides support the growth of the good bacteria in the colon. Unlike other carbohydrates, oligosaccharides such as inulin are non-digestible and pass through the small intestine to ferment in the large intestine. Through the fermentation process, the inulin becomes healthy intestinal micro flora (bifidobacterium). Other health benefits of oligosaccharides may include:
• Lowering cholesterol
• Reducing triglyceride levels
• Improving insulin resistance and glucose metabolism. This effect is extremely important for individuals who are overweight or Type II diabetic
• Boosting immune system function
Kefir is similar to yogurt in taste and texture and is created by adding cow or goat milk to kefir grains, which then undergo the fermentation process. Kefir supplies a complete protein source and is also filled with minerals, enzyme and friendly micro-organisms. Its rich supply of friendly bacteria optimizes digestion and makes it beneficial in restoring the internal micro flora of the intestinal systems (it's especially helpful after you've finished a course of antibiotics). Kefir can be mixed into a protein shake, eaten on its own, mixed with fruit, or mixed with yogurt and granola for a morning parfait.
DHA & EPA
When you eat omega 3 essential fatty acids, they’re broken down into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by your body. Research has shown omega 3 to be critically important to proper brain development, for anti-inflammatory effects, and for cardiac health. Boost your DHA and EPA levels by eating more raw nuts, seeds, cold water fish and by supplementing your diet with distilled fish oils.
Quinoa, pronounced "KEEN-wah", is a gluten-free grain that is easy to digest and is one of the least allergenic grains. At 12-18 per cent, quinoa has very high protein content – about twice that of rice. It contains all eight essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Quinoa may be an especially good choice for vegetarians and vegans because it has particularly high levels of the essential amino acids lysine, cyctein and methionine which are typically lacking in most grains. Cooked quinoa seeds have a delicate nutty flavor and are creamy and crunchy at the same time. The most popular type of quinoa is white or transparent yellow but it can also run the spectrum from pink to red, purple and black.
You may have noticed this ingredient in breads and wraps lately and wondered about it. When a whole-wheat kernel is sprouted for a certain period of time (12 - 48 hours), it converts into a plant that sprouts a mini green shoot. This sprouting process pre-digests some of the starch in the grain and lowers the glycemic index of the bread, making it ideal for weight loss and helpful in the control of blood sugar fluctuations.
This year, there are several health foods that are worthwhile taking a second look at. Boost your health and wellness by becoming an informed label reader and make the above functional foods part of your health regime!
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Dr. Joey Shulman is author of the national best seller The Last 15 – A Weight Loss Breakthrough (Wiley, 2007) and founder of The Shulman Weight Loss Clinic. For more information, please visit www.drjoey.com.