Note: This one in a series of stories from the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department in recognition of National Nutrition Month.
By Karla Wessling
Spinach, sweet potatoes, cranberries and salmon have additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition, so they are considered functional foods.
Many research institutions including private, government, and academic institutions have been devoting efforts to research functional foods, which contain phytochemicals and zoochemicals. These bioactive components that are found in plants and animals have been shown to reduce chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
Functional foods may help:
• moderate the damage to cells resulting from oxidation,
• prevent bacteria from sticking to places they should not be,
• prevent blood cells from sticking together and flowing freely,
• reduce inflammation that occurs in the walls of arteries,
• enhance the body's ability to detoxify chemicals, slow or stop growth of cancer cells and even kill them,
• regulate the body's natural functions.
Here are some recipes that focus on functional foods, and they are cheap and easy to make. I made them during a lunch-and-learn presentation at the Health Department.
1 can salmon (contains omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health)
3 ounces plain yogurt (probiotics for digestive health)
4 tablespoons Italian dressing
Spinach (indoles for anti-cancer activity, beta carotenes for eye health, enhance immunity, anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular health)
Cucumbers (flavonoids for cardiovascular health and anti-cancer activity)
Tomatoes (lycopene and monoterpenes for anti-cancer activity and phenolic acid for cardiovascular health)
Whole wheat tortillas (plant sterols for cardiovascular health, lignans for anti-cancer activity, and prebiotics for digestive health)
Drain salmon and mix with yogurt and Italian dressing. Spread desired amount of salmon mixture on tortilla. Layer veggies on salmon mixture and wrap up.
Sweet Potato Fries
2-3 sweet potatoes (flavonoids for antioxidant benefits; momterpenes for anti-cancer activity; and beta carotenes for enhanced immunity, anti-inflammatory properties, and cardiovascular health)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (monounsaturated fats for cardiovascular health)
Salt and pepper
Wash and peel potatoes and put them in an 8-inch-by8-inch microwavable dish. Drizzle with a little water so the potatoes don't become too dry. Cover. Microwave for 5 minutes. When potatoes are cool, cut into french fry pieces. In skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add some of the sweet potato fries, enough to cover bottom of skillet. Add a few dashes of salt and pepper to taste. Fries are done when brown and crisp. Depending upon the size of your skillet, repeat frying the potatoes until all the potatoes are done.
Easy Baked Apples
4 Red Delicious apples (flavonoids for cardiovascular health, anti-cancer activity)
1/3 cup dried cranberries (proanthocyanidins for cardiovascular health, urinary tract health)
1/3 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon (procyanidins for cardiovascular health, urinary tract health)
Wash and slice apples, put into a 8-inch-by-8-inch microwavable dish. Sprinkle dried cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg over apples. Cover. Microwave for 5 minutes. Stir. Microwave for 3 minutes. Stir. May need to microwave additional minutes until apples are tender.
For more information about functional foods, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website: eatright.org.
— Karla Wessling is a dietetic intern in the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. She is a student at the University of Kansas Medical Center.