Functional foods go beyond their basic function, providing powerful health benefits. Not only do they provide energy and prevent nutrient deficiencies, they contain compounds that help prevent disease. Find out how adding a functional ingredient or two can boost your meals for better health.
Functional is defined as having a special purpose or task. When it comes to functional health, this relates to improving physical and mental capacity to do your daily activities. It’s about taking a look at your body and mind as a whole, rather than focusing on specific systems.
Functional foods are highly nutritious and have disease-preventing substances (1). Functional foods either already contain beneficial properties or have ingredients added to make them functional such as:
Some properties of foods can also work together to enhance health! Food synergy is the notion that certain nutrients can complement each other and become more absorbable or usable by our bodies (2). This is one reason why wholefood based diets like Mediterranean prevent some diseases and promote healthy aging. Let’s take a look at some specific ways functional foods can enhance your health.
Dietary iron is important for transporting oxygen throughout our bodies and giving us energy (3). There are two different types of iron: one that comes from animal sources, called heme iron, and one that comes from plant sources, called nonheme iron. The animal form is more easily absorbed than the plant type. A plant-based diet offers many benefits such as heart and skin health, but it may take a bit more planning to get enough iron. To boost your iron absorption, simply add some vitamin C containing foods!
Iron sources (plant-based): Spinach, lentils, tofu, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, nuts, seeds.
Vitamin C sources: Kiwi, bell pepper, broccoli, strawberries, orange, lemon.
Functional meal: Easy Green Smoothie.
Probiotics are live organisms that provide wellness advantages such as fighting off harmful bacteria. They also enhance digestive wellness, increasing vitamin or mineral absorption (4). To keep these healthy organisms happy, it’s important to eat certain dietary fibers, called prebiotics.
Prebiotics: Oats, asparagus, onion, garlic, whole wheat, banana, chicory.
Probiotics: Yogurt, kimchi, miso, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, cultured milk.
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient which provides our body with energy. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and give us a quick boost of energy, however it’s more short lived. Whereas complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly for a steady release of energy (5). If you’re looking for a quick boost of energy, such as for a good workout, you may want the natural simple carb sources, whereas if you’re looking for sustained energy for better health and to take on your day, add the complex, whole versions to your meals.
Natural simple carbohydrates: Fruit, milk, milk products.
Complex carbohydrates: Beans, lentils, whole grains (quinoa, whole wheat, oats), sweet potatoes.
Functional meal: Banana Bread
Omega-3 is a healthy fat with a powerful impact on our brain and mental health. It improves cognitive performance at various stages of our life, such as growth when we’re young and supports cognitive function, such as preventing Alzheimers, as we age (6).
Omega 3 sources: Fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, herring), nuts and seeds (chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts).
Functional meal: Chia Pudding with Berries
Remember that food properties work together in order to benefit your health and well being. If you choose to try a supplement form of any of these vitamins, minerals, or functional food properties, make sure to check in with your doctor for their recommendations. If you’re going for the natural, functional food focused route, check out these expert created meal plans on Lifesum.
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.