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Well-Studied Foods
from Pharmacy Today OTC Supplement October 2003

According to Clare Hasler, PhD, executive director of the Functional Foods for Health Program at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, unmodified whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, represent the simplest examples of functional foods. The following are some of the most studied and effective:

Oats. Oats, oat bran, and whole oat products contain the soluble fiber beta glucan. Eating three grams of soluble fiber (about 60 grams of oatmeal) per day has been found to decrease total blood cholesterol levels by about 5%. Because of the significant benefits oats can provide, FDA awarded oats the first food-specific health claim in 1997, in response to a petition submitted by the Quaker Oats Company. In its petition, the company summarized 37 human clinical trials. The majority of these trials revealed statistically significant reductions in total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. In 1998, PDA extended the soluble fiber health claim to include psyllium fiber. Since then, Kellogg has begun marketing Ensemble, an extensive line of frozen foods, desserts, and cereals containing psyllium.

Soy. Soy-based foods contain proteins that can help lower blood cholesterol levels. FDA approved a health claim on soy protein-containing products pertaining to the reduced risk of coronary heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. The recommended intake of soy protein is 25 grams per day as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. A half-cup of tofu, for example, contains about 10 grams of soy protein. Soy products have also been found to reduce blood pressure.

Omega-3 fatty acids. Although PDA has not approved a health claim for salmon and other fatty fish, research shows that regular consumption of such fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, reduces the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed oil is also high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Broccoli. Broccoli contains several phytochemicals, including sulforaphane. Reviews of case-control studies reveal that eating broccoli regularly may decrease the risk for cancer.

Tomatoes. Tomatoes and tomato products are high in vitamin C, an important nutrient for health. Researchers have also found that eating tomatoes and tomato products containing the functional food component lycopene may decrease the risk for developing certain cancers.

Fermented dairy products. These products, which include yogurt and kefir, are considered probiotics. Eating fermented dairy products may improve gastrointestinal health, aid in cholesterol reduction, and decrease the risk of cancer.

Cranberries. Cranberry juice has been recognized as effective for treating urinary tract infections due to its high level of benzoic acid, which causes acidification of the urine. Similar evidence has been found for blueberries.

In addition to these "unmodified foods," companies are also pumping up processed foods with beneficial additives. An example of this is Benecol. Johnson & Johnson's Benecol, a margarine-like spread, lowers LDL cholesterol by as much as 10%, but only for patients willing to eat it three times a day. Another cholesterol-lowering margarine is Take Control from Lipton/Unilever. Both products carry cholesterol-lowering claims approved by FDA.

Note from Scott:
Becareful of the "pumped up" processed foods!  Although they may contain beneficial "additives," some of them contain large amounts of fats and/or simple carbohydrates (e.g. high fructose corn syrup) which may negate the beneficial effects of the additives.  A good rule of thumb:  The less processed a food is the better  it tends to be for you.  Adding  fiber to ice cream . . . doesn't make ice cream a healthy food, it just gives you more fiber.

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