The others are blueberries (antioxidants) salmon (omega-3), oats (fiber) and low-fat milk (vitamin D and calcium) – a list some may question as somewhat incongruous with the typical lab-oriented, functional foods description, but a selection of foods the NYSDA noted are highly functional despite not possessing introduced functional ingredients.
"Functional foods describe foods that, in addition to being nutritious, offer distinct health benefits," said NYSDA president J. Elizabeth Smythe.
"These foods may provide extra amounts of essential nutrients, and/or contain other biologically active components that promote healthy body functions. An example would be yogurt with probiotics. While yogurt is already a good source of calcium, protein, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium, the addition of probiotics, which aids digestion, increases its health benefit."
The NYSDA list follows a recent statement from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) that backed the potential of “fortified, enriched or enhanced foods” to benefit health as part of a balanced diet.
In compiling its list, the NYSDA polled nutritionists in its organization with health benefits and value featuring as top criteria.
Salmon came in at number one because of its potent omega-3 fatty acid levels which can benefit heart health, brain health and more.
“The American Heart Association suggests that people with coronary heart disease consume about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids daily,” NYSDA said. “They do not recommend supplements for healthy people; instead, they recommend eating fish twice a week.”
Low-fat yogurt came in at number five. “Look for brands that say ‘live and active cultures’ on the label,” NYSDA advised. Oats were second because of its high-fiber content, a “powerhouse nutrient, known for aiding with digestion, [and which] also helps fight disease, and may lower risk for high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”
Most Americans ate 15g a day, about half of the 30g recommended to ward off disease.
At three, antioxidant-rich blueberries were highlighted for their ability to“protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals and the chronic diseases associated with the aging process.”
Blueberries, NYSDA noted, contain 14mg of vitamin C and 0.8mg vitamin E per cup, but didn’t specify if these were wild or cultivated blueberries, which have different levels.
Low-fat milk took fourth due to its inherently raised calcium and vitamin D content.
“Instrumental in lowering high blood pressure, helping with regular heart beat, and building strong bones, calcium is a nutrient most Americans are not getting enough of,” NYSDA stated. “The same is true for vitamin D…” According to the ADA position statement the term "functional foods" is not a legal term but a marketing term. “There are many products and drinks enriched with such things as omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and plant sterols, however, not all of these have been scientifically proven to be beneficial,” NYSDA said.