What Are Functional Foods?
"Fiber added to bread or cereal can be a good thing," says Susan Moores, MS, RD. But scientists don't know whether adding refined fiber to foods will give you the same health benefits as eating fiber naturally found in foods. The best bet is to follow a healthy diet that includes foods that are naturally high in fiber: beans, vegetables, and whole grains, Moores says.
How much fiber do you need? Women need about 25 grams of fiber daily, while men need about 38 grams a day. Your body needs two kinds of fiber. Soluble fiber, which slows digestion, can be found in beans, nuts, and grains including oats. Insoluble fiber, which helps food pass through the body, and can be found in vegetables and whole grains.
What are they? Omega-3s are a "good" kind of fat found in fish like salmon, tuna, cod, sardines, anchovies, herring, and trout. They're also found, in lower amounts, in nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, and flax.
How do they help your heart? Eating enough omega-3s helps protect your arteries from the sticky plaque that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Omega-3s also protect against a dangerous abnormal heartbeat, and they can lower unhealthy blood fats called triglycerides.
The best heart benefits, though, come from two kinds of omega-3s found mostly in fish: DHA and EPA. Plant foods have a different type of omega-3 called ALA.
Most foods you see in the store with added omega-3s -- cereal, pasta, soy milk, yogurt, margarine, and eggs -- use ALA, which may not help your heart as much as the kind found in fish. Also, many of these foods don't have enough omega-3s, Gerbstadt says.
How much omega-3 do you need? The American Heart Association advises people to eat fish at least twice a week to get enough omega-3s. A 4-ounce serving of salmon has 2 grams of omega-3s. If you have a heart condition, ask your doctor if you need higher amounts of omega-3s.
Remember, most of the nutrients you need should come from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish, and lean meat. No one knows whether fortified foods can provide all the health benefits you get from the complex mix of nutrients in whole foods. Your doctor or a dietitian can let you know what would be best for you.