What Are Functional Foods?
Have you ever wondered how you can enrich your diet further than getting the basic nutrients and energy you need? Then perhaps you should add some functional foods to your daily diet.
What Are Functional Foods?
First coined in Japan, the term refers to a particular type of food group. Functional foods are a type of food that provides more than basic nutrition. They are nutrient-dense foods that can play a specific, beneficial role in the body.
These foods can help prevent disease and enhance certain functions of your physiology.
You don't need functional food in your diet to survive, but they can help improve your overall health and wellbeing if you do include them. They are often foods that are fortified or enhanced with extra nutrients.
What Are Nutraceuticals?
You may also hear functional foods referred to as nutraceuticals. It's simply a component of your food that provides a medical or health benefit.
The compounds that provide health benefits may occur naturally in the food or be added artificially.
Types of Functional Foods and Their Benefits
To look at the different types of functional foods, let's divide them into two categories. Those foods are naturally considered functional foods due to the density of their nutrients and those which are fortified.
Naturally Occurring Functional Foods:
These are the functional foods that exist naturally:
It's well known that adding extra greens to your diet has health benefits. Foods like spinach, kale, and broccoli are rich in iron, vitamins A and C, and dozens of micronutrients.
Packing in the greens can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Berries, oranges, apples, bananas; every piece of fruit you pick up is a powerhouse of nutrients. They are full of antioxidants which can help your body combat oxidative stress and prevent the early onset of chronic disease.
Nuts and Seeds
All nuts and seeds contain macro and micronutrients your body needs to thrive, from healthy fats and protein to fiber minerals like copper and zinc and vitamins A, C, and E.
Add nuts to your diet for skin health, brain function, and heart health.
Adding foods such as tempeh, miso, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha to your diet can positively benefit the balance of bacteria in your gut.
The microbiome is the balance of probiotic and prebiotic bacteria in your gut. It's also linked to a healthy, functioning immune system. If you have a healthy microbiome, you will have improved overall health.
Regularly eating whole grains can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. They help keep you full for longer and help balance your blood sugar levels.
Eat whole grains such as brown rice, bulgar wheat, and oats.
Beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils are great ways to pack extra plant protein into your diet. You can also use them as a great iron, potassium, and magnesium source.
Legumes are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and an easy way to incorporate functional foods. They help nourish your body and give you the nutrients to perform optimally.
Herbs and Spices
Adding herbs and spices to your meals is another easy way to incorporate functional foods filled with micronutrients and powerful antioxidants.
Herbs and spices effectively maintain blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation in the body, among multiple other benefits.
Fortified Functional Foods:
Here are some fortified functional foods which you can add to your balanced diet:
- Low sugar cereals
- Yogurts, milk, and cheese (often fortified with calcium)
- Plant milk such as almond, oat, cashew, soya, and hazelnut
- Fortified drinks such as orange juice
- Fortified bread and pasta (make sure it's whole grain)
- Fortified eggs
How to Incorporate Functional Foods Into Your Diet
Eating healthy and ensuring you get the right balance of nutrients can be difficult if you don't know what to do.
The best way to do it is by learning what foods you should be eating and then finding a few healthy whole-food recipes that are easy to cook.
Having a plan and planning ahead are also ideal for eating a balanced diet. If you always have healthy ingredients in your house, it will be easier to cook something wholesome than ordering a take-out.
Meal prep is another great way to make sure you eat healthily. Prepare several meals at the weekend, which you can grab from the fridge or freezer throughout the week when you're busy and on the go.
Here are some more ideas for incorporating functional foods:
- Try adding turmeric or cinnamon to your oatmeal or using them in a curry or smoothie.
- Eat a balanced breakfast to pack in as many nutrients as you can at the start of the day, maybe a smoothie with spinach or kale.
- Always keep dips and spreads in your fridge to snack on something healthy like hummus and veggies.
What Are the Results of Eating Functional Foods?
If you eat the right balance of functional foods, you may find more energy, have better moods and have an improved overall sense of wellbeing.
Eating functional foods can protect you from nutrient deficiencies which may cause specific health problems. For example, an iron deficiency can result in anemia.
In the long term, eating functional foods can help protect you against disease and inflammation in the body.
Make Healthy Eating a Habit
Once you get into eating a healthy, balanced diet, it will become natural for you. Functional foods will automatically become part of this routine, and you will notice the benefits.
Give yourself time to adjust to a new eating pattern, and don't punish yourself if you go off track; building new habits takes time.
For support with making the transition to a healthy lifestyle, check out our wellness education.
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges including depression, auto-immune disorders, and being overweight that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
We encourage you to take advantage of these FREE Wellness Resources on our website.
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