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Elizabeth Keegan MS, RD, LDN

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Baby Boomers and Functional Foods - Myth vs. Facts

Posted by Elizabeth Keegan MS, RD, LDN on Aug 23, 2017 11:00:00 AM

This is the third article of a 4-part series on the role that nutrition plays in the health of Baby Boomers. Click here to read part one and here to read part two.

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Functional foods, sometimes called nutraceutical foods, are foods that offer health benefits that go beyond providing basic nutrition. They contain health-boosting nutrients or additives that have in many cases been shown to possess medical benefits.

The Mayo Clinic reports that incorporating functional foods into your diet could promote health, boost recovery, and reduce the chances of becoming ill. The example that the Mayo Clinic gives for a functional food is oatmeal:

Oatmeal is an example of a functional food that contains a health-boosting ingredient (in this case, soluble fiber) that may have medical benefits to you and your health (in this case, lowering your "bad" cholesterol levels).

Because our understanding of nutrition and disease is always changing, and because different people have different ideas about which functional foods and functional food regimens are best, there are a few myths out there. Below you'll find a breakdown of the most prevalent, and hopefully get a better understanding of the real facts behind functional foods, your health, and optimal nutrition.

Myth: Your body and its needs don't really change as you age

Fact: Your body's needs actually change dramatically as you age. Over time, some nutrients become harder for your body to produce on its own. The changing needs of baby boomers in general can make certain vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids more essential than they would be for a younger person.

As an example, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are important for cognitive function and heart health. In other words, staying sharp might mean consuming foods with added omega-3 fatty acids (many eggs have added omega-3) or perhaps supplementing with fish oil - after consulting with your general physician.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain and heart functioning, and they're also important for keeping your joints in good shape. Joint health is one of those things that's taken for granted when we're younger, but joint health can be a big health concern for baby boomers. Calcium and magnesium also address the needs of baby boomers by boosting bone health; foods containing vitamin D would also be good to take since your body needs vitamin D to actually use calcium to strengthen your bones.

Myth: Functional foods are hard to find and expensive!

Fact: The truth is that functional foods with ingredients shown to improve your overall health can often be found in your local grocery store. That's because some of the real heavy hitters when it comes to functional foods are everyday fruits and vegetables.

Let's just focus on two nutrients for now that can be found in kale and tomatoes. Kale contains a nutrient called lutein - which can help support your eye health as you age. What's even better is that you can combine kale, spinach and eggs together (all three foods contain lutein) to get a functional food medley that really supports your vision throughout your golden years! Younger people benefit too.

The other functional food nutrient that's easy to find in your local grocery store is lycopene. This is a nutrient found in tomatoes and it's especially important for older men to have enough of. Why's that? Because lycopene has been shown to protect against prostate cancer and improve the overall health of the prostate as men age.

Another thing: for seniors looking to improve their digestive health, you don't need to look much further than the bread and cereal aisle at the grocery store. You can find insoluble fiber to improve your digestion in foods like wheat bran. Yogurts that contain probiotics can also work wonders for digestion, too.

Myth: The functional food trend is an unscientific fad

Fact: The surge in popularity of functional foods like fortified cereals and everyday vegetables like spinach is only going to get stronger.

The science shows that taking a calcium and magnesium supplement, for instance, could give seniors better bone and muscle health. Calcium and magnesium have even been shown to improve heart health for baby boomers. Magnesium is important for keeping a stable heart rhythm and getting your blood pressure in the ideal range.

This goes to show that the functional food movement is based on sound science. It also shows that you can add or emphasize certain nutrients to fit your particular risk factors, although most baby boomers should be getting things like vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids because they're so important.

It was the ancient doctor Hippocrates who said: "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

To learn more, download this Superfoods Infographic!

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Topics: Nutrition, Senior Nutrition, Baby Boomers

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