Top Heart-Healthy Nutrients And Functional Foods

Top Heart-Healthy Nutrients And Functional Foods

For the past few years, there has been an increase in the popularity of functional foods. You can say that it has become a popular buzzword. Well, it is not surprising, as there is an extensive increase in unhealthy diet habits among people all around the world. Shockingly, various studies and statistical analysis show the current world population is experiencing a huge increase in lifestyle diseases.

Heart Diseases – A Major Concern

Do you know that heart diseases are the major cause of death among men and women? In the US alone, one in every four death occurs due to heart diseases. So, it means every forty seconds, there is a death occurring in the US due to heart disease. It means each minute, more than a single person will be dying in America because of stroke.

Diet and Changing Lifestyle Can Help

Now people must make a change in their lifestyle to lower their chances of having any kind of heart-related health issues. One can reduce or lower the smoking and drinking habits. They can also exercise regularly and start following a good healthy diet.

Furthermore, diet plays a great role in helping you live a fruitful and long life. There are certain so-called ‘functional foods’ that have proven to be very effective in creating and maintaining optimal heart health.

Definition and Kinds of Functional Foods

As per the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), there is no proper or standard definition for functional foods. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics state that functional foods as something like a whole food along with enriched, enhanced or fortified foods having potentially beneficial and best effects on a person’s health. This is based on the significant standards of evidence.

In simple terms, functional foods are those food items that provide a good health benefit along with necessary micro and macro nutrients. Also, such food plays a major role in preventing various diseases. They even include fortified foods, fermented foods, phytonutrients containing vegetables and fruits, chocolates as well as fish.

Why Fortified Food Is Considered as Functional Foods?

Now fortified foods are often considered as a functional foodstuff because they have the essential minerals and vitamins present in them. And these help in preventing all kinds of diseases. Vitamin D is added into milk as it assists in absorbing calcium that is vital for preventing osteoporosis and rickets.

In the USA, cereals and flours are fortified with folic acid, which is a vitamin B. This helps in preventing neural tube defects among infants. Certain salts have iodine in them that prevents developmental and intellectual disabilities as well as to an extent expansion of thyroid glands. Also, most of these food items are as a result of the public health initiatives which can prevent a lot of diseases among the population who do not consume nutrient-dense diet.

Veggies and Fruits As Functional Foods

Why are vegetables and fruits considered as functional foods? Well, they have a certain basic compound that helps in preventing and lowering diseases. Now, these compounds are called phytonutrients and contain anthocyanin, lycopene, lutein, beta-carotene, allicin, lutein, isothiocyanate, and zeaxanthin.

Red fruits like pink grapefruits, tomatoes, papayas, watermelons, guavas, etc have a substance called lycopene. Various research and studies show that this lycopene helps in reducing lung and stomach cancer, prostate, etc.

In addition, purple and red fruits as well as vegetables (even drinks based on them) like red wine, grapes, grape juice, blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, cherries, red cabbage, blood oranges, etc, have anthocyanin This helps in lowering blood pressure and even reduces heart attacks.

Now orange fruits, as well as vegetables like mangoes, carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, butternut squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, have beta-carotene. These help in preventing macular degeneration. Yellow fruits and veggies like citrus, papayas, persimmons, etc have beta-cryptothanix. This helps in improving growth as well as immune functions and even eyesight.

Green and yellow fruits as well as vegetables like collard greens, spinach, yellow corn, mustard greens, green peas, honeydew melon, avocado, have zeaxanthin as well as lutein. These are important for preventing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, as well as heart diseases.

Green veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choi, cabbage, kale, etc have isothiocyanate. Now, these help in reducing cancer. In addition, white vegetables like onions, garlic, peas, celery, chives, and endives have allicin. These contain antitumor effects.

Fermented Food – A Good Functional Foods

Besides the above food items, even fermented foods are considered as good functional foods. They have probiotic which are not only healthy but also beneficial for digestion. This helps in various symptoms like diarrhea as well as constipation. Studies even show that probiotics help in immune function.

Now fermented foodstuffs like unpasteurized pickled vegetables, like Kimchi, dill pickles, and sauerkraut are good examples of functional foods. If you are purchasing pickled vegetables from the store, you need to make sure that they are not pasteurized. Pasteurization kills all the necessary probiotics. Also, yoghurt has probiotics however, you can purchase it pasteurized. Why? Because probiotics are added after that. Also, Kombucha is another important source of probiotics.

Fish’s as Functional Foods

Do you know that wild fish is one of the best functional foods? They have better amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These have anti-inflammatory properties. Even they are associated with reducing triglyceride levels and promoting good blood flow. Sardines, salmon, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, etc have the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids. You might find smaller amounts of them in cod, halibut as well as shrimp.

Keep in mind that you need to consume wild fish as the farmed ones won’t have a high amount of omega 3. This is because of the corn-based feed that they are given. If you are allergic to fish or don’t consume them, they are other sources of omega-3 fatty like flax seeds, walnuts, and even omega-3 fortified eggs and milk.

Chocolate – A Good Source of Functional Food

Yes, chocolates are also good examples of functional food. The cocoa in chocolate contains flavonoids. These boost of serotonin and endorphin levels. Besides, this has the same effect as the low dose of aspirin which helps in thinning the blood.

Do you know that dark chocolate has more flavonoids compared to the milk ones? However, you do have to keep in mind that you need to consume chocolate in moderation as it has a huge amount of saturated fat per each ounce.

Functional Food – A Powerful Diet

Food is one of the most powerful methods to fight and avoid diseases. Now when it is related to functional foods, it is necessary to consume an entire food as the whole compounds among the food will work synergistically. For example, those individuals who are consuming beta-carotene-based food will have less chance of getting lung cancer.

But when the beta-carotene gets isolated and placed in the supplement form, individuals end up in experiencing adverse health effects. This means that it is not beta-carotene, which is avoiding the diseases, but it is the entire carrot. Now keep in mind that a diet that has the balance of vegetables, fruits, yoghurt, pickled vegetables and omega-3 rich sources will assist in preventing diseases. Now if you are not able to get all the necessary nutrients from the whole foods, then you can depend on the fortified food as they are having nutritional benefits as well.

Safety Consideration

Even though there is evidence showing certain functional foods or food ingredients will play a great role in health promotion and disease promotion, still, safety consideration is considered as the major importance. Recently, various safety concerns are raised concerning the indiscriminate addition in terms of botanicals of food.

Also, there are various functional bars, cereals, beverages, and soups that are being enhanced using botanicals which might seem to be a bit risky for some consumers. Now the safety issue about herbs are very complex, and the issue regarding the herb-drug interaction is getting increasing attention. Now the enzymes will inactivate various drugs. Thus, this will reduce their levels as well as activities in the human body.

Improving Heart Health Micronutrients Through Food

Now heart health is a complex function. It has various variables like blood pressure and arterial function. Even studies show that greater and better intake of food like leafy green vegetables will easily improve heart health.

Here each new study will show a stronger link among heart diseases and diet. Keep in mind that nowadays, what you are putting on the plate will have a direct bearing on the levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, as well as inflammation. With the advancement in technology and medical research, we are now able to get a better understanding of how micronutrients will improve heart health.

Functional Food for Heart Health

Before we indulge in the various functional food for heart health, there are a few steps you need to follow while consuming functional food. Following are some of them –

  1. Consume various kinds of whole food like vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and whole grains.
  2. Avoid smoking.
  3. Get or do thirty or forty minutes of exercising.
  4. Reduce the salt content

Now once you have made these activities as your habits, the below-given nutrients along with functional foods will make your heart healthy.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

You might find omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA in fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and cod. In addition, you might even find them in smaller amounts in foodstuffs and nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts. One of the most popular ingredients in functional foods is the addition of omega-3 fatty acids that are added in soy products like yoghurt, milk, soy products, cereal, eggs, margarine, pasta and other foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids help in curbing inflammation that might lead to heart attacks. Also, it helps in improving the blood vessel elasticity. Even they can make the blood clot very less. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids help in improving memory and mood as well as it lowers the odds of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

Plant Stanols And Sterols

Now the plant stanols and sterols are known as phytosterols and these come from the plants. You can naturally find them in foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and even vegetables.

Dieticians state that butter, margarine, and spreads along with plant stanols and sterols are one of the better functional food additions to the diet. Plant stanols and sterols will block the absorption of cholesterol in the lower intestine. This will help in avoiding and reducing the bad cholesterol levels. Consuming two or three grams of phytosterols each day will provide this benefit. You can easily get phytosterols in fortified margarine, juices, oil, milk, yoghurt, and snack bars.


You can easily get fibre from various vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and nuts. Most people in the USA don’t get enough fibre. Nowadays, you can get fibre added to various functional foods like waffles, bread, soymilk and cereal. Also, fibre can help you to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and avoid the risk of getting heart diseases.


You can easily get calcium in natural form from various dairy products like yoghurt and milk. Also, you might get it from lesser amounts from foodstuffs like beans, leafy greens, seeds and nuts. Calcium helps in blood clotting and regulates the heartbeat. It helps in conducting nerve impulses too.

Vitamin D

Just like calcium, we don’t get enough of vitamin D too. Vitamin D is often found in yoghurt, milk, cheese, etc. Also, you might even find vitamin D in various juices, margarine and cereals. Vitamin has a great significance to our body. It helps in keeping the immune system strong. Also, it will prevent high blood pressure and even damage to the artery.

Wrapping Up

Keep in mind that a balanced diet, staying active and keeping a healthy weight are the best and cornerstones of good heart health. It is good if you are opting for functional food for being in top health but at times you need to consult your doctor or physician before you go on this healthy lifestyle.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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