Making wise choices about the foods we put in our bodies is a key part of any healthy plan.
Not all foods are created equally. Some foods have more nutritional goodness than others. There's a classification of foods called functional foods
that contain additional compounds that go above and beyond meeting your basic nutritional needs.
But virtually all fruits and vegetables are functional food because they contain antioxidants, which prevent disease and are good for you.
Functional foods often refer to foods that have been enriched or fortified with health promoting ingredients—such as calcium-fortified orange juice,
milk that has added vitamin D, or yogurts that contain probiotics, or healthy bacteria that aid in digestive health.
We all know about the heart healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in foods like salmon … but did you know that omega-3 fatty acids can be found in an array of foods
… from enriched eggs to spreads…
And speaking of spreads…if you have a cholesterol problem you might want to consider choosing a spread that's been fortified with plant starels or plant stanols.
These are natural substances added to foods that can help lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol—a major contributing factor to heart disease.
Plant stanols occur naturally in many plant-based foods, but in amounts too small to have much of an impact.
Fortunately, food manufacturers can concentrate these natural cholesterol lowering substances and add them back to an increasing variety of select foods.
Foods containing soluble fiber, such as oats, beans, nuts, certain fruits and vegetables, are another example of a functional food because like plant stanols
they can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. It's really easy to add these heart-healthy functional foods to your shopping list,
but remember a nutritious eating plan is just one component of a healthy lifestyle that should also include daily exercise and regular checkups with your physician.
For WebMD, I'm registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman.