February 22, 2018
Functional foods – or foods that offer specific health-enhancing benefits beyond those normally associated with a nutritious diet – have been utilized in natural medicine for centuries, but are enjoying a resurgence as part of the health and wellness trend sweeping the globe. As consumers tire of fad diets that eliminate ingredients, they are increasingly focused on incorporating foods with special health benefits into a balanced diet. While fresh produce is, in general, a healthy choice, there are a number of fruits and vegetables that qualify as functional foods, offering exceptional nutrient density and complex compounds that go above and beyond the nutritional norm, providing benefits such as boosted heart health, reduced inflammation, or pain relief. These special foods engage consumers more deeply and command a premium in the marketplace. Below are some of the most exciting specialty produce items with unique health benefits and a history of use in traditional medicine.
Horseradish is a perennial plant cultivated for its large root. When cut or grated, it packs a pungent, spicy punch. This root vegetable is typically incorporated into sauces that accompany beef, chicken, and seafood. And, aside from satisfying the taste buds of those who enjoy spice, it boasts some serious health benefits. Due to its antibiotic properties, horseradish has commonly been used in folk medicine to reduce symptoms of respiratory illness, and even treat urinary tract infections. It also contains enzymes that stimulate digestion. To top it all off, the glucosinolate compounds found in horseradish are not only responsible for the root’s spicy flavor, but also aid in the fight against cancer.
Turmeric is the rhizome, or underground stem, of a ginger-like plant. Most often, turmeric is ground into a fine powder and used as a culinary spice. Aside from providing flavor to dishes, turmeric has long standing roots in traditional Ayurveda medicine. The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which yields powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is an antioxidant. The benefits of turmeric are plentiful, it is said to aid in pain relief, digestion, improvement of liver function, and possibly ward off cancer.
Watercress is said to be the “super hero” of leafy greens, and rightfully so. It is one of the most nutrient-dense plants on Earth, containing essential minerals and vitamins such as vitamin A, C, E, K, and B. This leaf vegetable is on the list of cancer-fighting foods, can help to reduce inflammation, regulate overactive thyroids, and improve cardiovascular health.
The papaya is a tropical fruit, and has a rich tropical flavor reminiscent of honeydew and musky mango. An enzyme found in papaya, papain, has been used to fight inflammation, improve digestion, and even to treat infected wounds when applied directly to the skin. The lycopene and vitamin C found within the fruit can help protect the skin from damage and also improve heart health.
The purple sweet potato not only impresses with its deeply purple flesh, but also boasts an exceptionally high content of antioxidants and phytonutrients. This sweet potato offers a copious amount of healthy fiber, as well as anthocyanins (the antioxidant that gives the potatoes their purple coloring) which promote healthy vision. Plus, consuming this potato may help to regulate blood pressure and prevent blood clots.
Bitter melon is a member of the gourd family, and, as its name alludes, is considerably bitter in taste. Bitter melon is popular in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is best known for its ability to aid in digestion and lower blood sugar. Even more amazing, studies show that the fruit can mimic insulin’s effects and treat diabetes! Other findings show that the fruit can aid in treating kidney stones, skin conditions, and even menstrual irregularities. It certainly is a super food.
Produce, Functional Produce, Horseradish, Turmeric, Papaya, Bitter Melon, Purple Sweet Potatoes, Watercress