Foods with function

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Heard about functional foods but not quite sure what they are? Think of them as nutritious foods — but with a little extra pizzazz.

Functional foods are foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. They contain bioactive compounds, which contribute to health and wellness and are believed to reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.

The great thing about functional foods is that you will find many of them at your local grocery store. Many are familiar foods that you may already enjoy as part of your diet; others are added easily to everyday meals.

Here are some examples of food components that are believed to have health benefits and where you can find them.

IngredientWhy it may be good for youWhere to find it
Beta-caroteneHelps prevent cell damage; may decrease risk of certain types of cancerSweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe
LycopeneMay reduce risk of prostate cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration (serious eye disease)Tomatoes and tomato products (juice, sauce and salsa), watermelon, red and pink grapefruit
Insoluble fibreMay contribute to maintenance of a healthy digestive tract and reduce the risk of some types of cancerWheat bran, corn bran, fruit skins
Beta-glucansMay reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart diseaseOats, oatmeal, oat bran, barley, rye
Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA)May contribute to maintenance of heart health, mental function and visionFlax seed, flax meal, walnuts
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA)May reduce risk of heart disease, and may contribute to maintaining mental function and visionSalmon, tuna, fish oils
AnthocyaninsMay contribute to maintenance of brain functionBlueberries and other berries, cherries, red grapes
FlavanolsMay contribute to maintenance of heart healthTea, cocoa, chocolate, apples, grapes
SeleniumPrevents cell damage and may contribute to healthy immune systemFish, red meat, grains, garlic, liver, eggs
PhytoestrogensMay contribute to maintenance of bone health, healthy brain and immune function, and menopausal healthSoybeans and soy-based foods
PrebioticsMay improve gastrointestinal health and calcium absorptionWhole grains, onions, some fruits, garlic, leeks, fortified foods and beverages
ProbioticsMay improve gastrointestinal health and systemic immunity (depending on strain of the beneficial bacteria)Some yogurts and cultured dairy products

For optimum health, be sure to enjoy a variety of foods every day. Eating whole foods, as opposed to supplements, may provide bioactive compounds that work together to provide health benefits.


  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals: website
  • Dietitians of Canada, Resource Centre: What are functional foods and nutraceuticals?: website
  • International Food Information Council Foundation, Functional Foods: website
  • The Hospital for Sick Children, Specialty Food Shop, Functional Foods: Getting More Bang for your BITE: website

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