The holiday season is full of joy, excitement, good food and time with family. But food and family can also be a source of anxiety for many folks and for those suffering from hypertension this could be a dangerous combination. Being proactive with your menu, however, could help lower your anxiety and your blood pressure–just include some functional foods.
What are functional foods?
The National Library of Medicine says that the definition of “functional foods” is a loose one, easily manipulated and misunderstood.
“Functional foods are poorly defined. A common definition is that they contain substances ‘beyond basic nutrition.'” they write in an article arguing for a more rational definition of “functional foods” posted on their website. They go on to argue that there are many reasons this is a poor definition including:
- The inclusion of commonly eaten foods on the list such as beets, peanuts, and strawberries.
“If these foods are all classified as functional, then virtually every food recommended by food guides should also be classified as functional. For that reason, describing these healthy foods as functional appears to serve no useful purpose and merely causes confusion. It makes much more sense to refer to these foods by terms, such as ‘healthy foods’ or ‘foods that may help prevent disease’.”
- The term “beyond basic nutrition” is vague and confusing.
“Should this term include dietary fiber? It is often unclear if the term includes nutrients. Carotenoids illustrate the problem. Carotenoids that the body can convert into retinol and therefore use as a source of vitamin A (e.g., beta-carotene) are clearly part of basic nutrition, whereas other carotenoids that have no vitamin A activity (e.g., lutein and lycopene) are arguably ‘beyond basic nutrition’. This makes little sense.”
- Minimally processed foods that have been fortified to increase their nutritional value are not currently included.
“Many novel foods have been developed and marketed in recent years that contain added nutrients and are intended to enhance health. Examples include orange juice with added calcium and margarine fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. It makes good sense to classify these foods as functional, as they are distinct from conventional foods.”
So how should we define “functional foods?” Here is the new definition they are suggesting:
“Functional foods are novel foods that have been formulated so that they contain substances or live microorganisms that have a possible health-enhancing or disease-preventing value, and at a concentration that is both safe and sufficiently high to achieve the intended benefit. The added ingredients may include nutrients, dietary fiber, phytochemicals, other substances, or probiotics.”
This would include both naturally occurring “health-enhancing” nutrients and those fortified in processing.
According to EatRight.org (The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) the FDA has its own labeling for what is defined as “functional foods”.
“In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, regulates functional foods and label claims that appear on foods and beverages. Examples of claims include those promoting the role of dietary fiber for heart health or advertisements that a product is “lite” or reduced in sodium or fat. Although the FDA defines terms, such as ‘reduced sodium’ and ‘low-fat,’ there is currently no legal definition for functional food. This leaves American consumers to evaluate the claim on their own. Focusing on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list can help you determine if a food is a healthful choice.”
As a result the term “functional foods” covers a great many foods, many of which you are already consuming.
“Minimally processed, whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods, can all be functional foods. Generally, these foods have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed on a regular basis and at certain levels.”
Functional Foods and Hypertension
Hypertension, or high blood pressure is a problem for many Americans, especially those who have high-stress jobs or bad eating habits. Often the holiday season only compounds these issues.
But there is good news! According to Harvard Health Publishing making some small changes to you diet and lifestyle can show major improvement.
Here is what they suggest:
- Eat more fish, nuts, and legumes (beans).
- Try to burn at least as many calories each day as you take in.
- Turn to vegetables and fruits instead of sugary or salty snacks and desserts.
- Select breads, pasta, and other carbohydrate-rich foods that are made from whole grains instead of highly refined white flour.
- Eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
- Use unsaturated fats like olive, canola, soybean, peanut, corn, or safflower oils instead of butter, coconut oil, or palm-kernel oil.
- Rely on fresh or frozen foods instead of canned and processed foods.
- Choose low-sodium foods whenever possible; use herbs, spices, vinegar, and other low-sodium flavorings instead of salt.
- Decrease your caloric intake if you need to lose weight.
- If you need help, record everything that you eat day by day for a week. Have this information reviewed by a dietitian.
So what does this have to do with mushrooms?
According to a recent article on Health.com new research suggests that edible mushrooms are the next functional food to add to your grocery list.
Here’s what they have to say:
“A new study found that adding mushrooms to your diet may improve high blood sugar levels. […]
A review published in Phytotherapy Research spotlights how incorporating edible mushrooms into your diet might improve one’s hypertension.1
The authors note that much has been written about the health benefits of these fungi ingredients, but it has often been ‘difficult to fully comprehend the role of mushrooms as dietary interventions in alleviating hypertension and other cardiovascular malfunctions.’ […]
Among their findings, they explain that the mushroom-contained bioactive compounds like cordycepin, lovastatin, eritadenine, and ergosterol are thought to “directly influence gene expression that induces cardiovascular” function due to the fact they are structurally similar to, among other things, adenosine—a chemical that can lower blood pressure.”
How to add mushrooms to your holiday menu
Ready to take a step towards better health this holiday season? Check out some of our favourite holiday recipes.