Fix Your Plate by Tara Reeves
Functional foods have become wildly popular in the health and wellness space over the last decade, and rightfully so. You may have heard them referred to as nutraceuticals, as these are foods that are highly nutritious and have been studied and marketed for their health benefits. Common benefits of functional foods may include disease prevention, improving nutrient deficiencies and enhancing performance by way of cognitive function, as an example.
Think of functional foods as ingredients that have a function beyond their nutrient values, hence the name. These foods are generally nutrient dense but they also have specific abilities that contribute to and benefit the improvement of our overall health and wellbeing.
With our soils becoming increasingly devoid of nutrients from abusive agriculture practices, it can be tough to get all of the required nutrients that we need to thrive through the foods we eat everyday. That’s why we see cereal products being fortified with the vitamins and minerals that are either no longer found in the grains that they are made from or that have been removed through processing. This is highly problematic because many people rely on these processed foods as their go-to kitchen staples, not realizing that the grain, rice and milk products that they consume on a daily basis are foundationally devoid of nutrients.
Functional foods on the other hand, have the ability to fill in the gaps of our dietary shortcomings. Many conventional functional foods (conventional, meaning they are not modified) are packed with vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats.
Here are some examples of popular functional foods and their benefits:
- Matcha green tea – contains a variety of antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and decrease inflammation.
- Moringa Oleifera – an excellent source of vitamins such as vitamin C and minerals like magnesium and iron. It is high in protein, as it contains essential amino acids. Studies have shown that moringa may help reduce cholesterol, blood sugar and inflammation.
- Medicinal mushrooms (Chaga, Reishi & Lion’s Mane) – Chaga mushrooms are packed with antioxidants and are generally useful for their anti-aging properties, lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Reishi mushrooms have many functional uses, as their benefits include mood-boosting properties that may help reduce anxiety and stress, while also assisting in maintaining a healthy immune system. Lion’s Mane is also packed with antioxidants and best known for its brain boosting benefits and immune boosting properties.
When it comes to certain functional foods such as those listed above, unfortunately, they may not be accessible for everyone so, here are some functional foods that you may already have in your fridge and pantry: fruits such as blueberries, bananas, peaches, kiwi, citrus fruits and apples are all highly nutritious foods that contain antioxidants and are a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, zucchini, cauliflower, and kale are packed with nutrients such as vitamin C and iron and are a great source of fiber. Nuts and seeds like almonds, Brazil nuts, hemp hearts and chia seeds are great sources of protein and heart-healthy omega fatty acids. And of course, let’s not forget the spice cabinet where you’ll likely find turmeric, known for its anti-inflammatory properties and cinnamon, which is great for assisting with blood sugar balance.
Whenever possible, it is best to consume these everyday foods in their organic, non-modified form, to access their true benefits and to limit further toxin exposure from pesticides.