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Functional Foods

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Functional foods — also known as nutraceuticals, healthy foods, and wellness foods — are regular foods with added nutrients to offer extra health benefits beyond their basic nutrition. Many wellness foods are already on the market. Orange juice with added calcium, eggs with vitamin E added, and pasta with added omega-3 fatty acids are just a few examples.

Researchers are looking at adding extra antioxidants (a type of phytochemical) to foods. Antioxidants protect your body's cells from free radicals — unstable molecules created during normal cell functions. Pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, and herbicides also can create free radicals in your body. Free radicals can damage a cell's genetic parts and may trigger the cell to grow out of control. These changes may contribute to the development of cancer and other diseases. Adding extra antioxidants to a food that is inexpensive and available year-round — crackers, for example — would help more people get the associated benefits.

More research is needed on wellness foods and the benefits they can provide. Until we have more definitive answers, eating a healthy diet that includes 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, as well as whole grains and legumes, is the best way to give your body the nutrients and energy it needs.

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