The best kinds of food have flavor and function. According to the Mayo Clinic, functional foods have “a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.” Yep, chowing down on certain whole foods can both improve your overall health and decrease the risk of disease. Definite win-win!
These notable noshes often have dietary fiber, natural antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, and Omega-3s—just to name a few. Modified functional foods, on the other hand, are fortified with probiotics, prebiotics, vitamins, and minerals. Now that we’ve covered the technical stuff, it’s time to dive into where we can find these functional foods!
Fruits & Veggies
Let’s talk about tasting the rainbow. Fruits and veg carry compounds like phytonutrients, lycopene, anthocyanin, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and allicin. These wordy pigments mean major health benefits for the body. Onto our next burning question: does every color count the same?
Lycopene, a type of organic pigment, can be found in watermelon, tomatoes, papayas, and pink grapefruits. This compound has potential cancer-kicking properties, especially when it comes to the prostate, lung, and stomach. Eggplants, black plums, grapes, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, red cabbage, and blood oranges contain anthocyanin, which is associated with lowered blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart attack.
The orange crew (think pumpkins, carrots, apricots, mangoes, and sweet potatoes) have boosted levels of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. This can help your peepers by preventing macular degeneration!
It’s actually really easy being green. Certain side dish stars like broccoli, bok choy, brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage deliver isothiocyanate, a compound known for decreasing the risk of cancer. You can also expect a hefty helping of dietary fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A.
Add some spice to your life—seriously! Not only can a tablespoon or two of turmeric take your food’s flavor up a notch, but it can also work wonders for your body. Turmeric, a spice native to Southern Asia, has curcumin to thank for its vibrant color. This chemical contains anti-inflammatory properties that protect against cancer-causing agents. It can also help improve the lining of your blood vessels, potentially lending a hand in reducing the risk of heart disease. Since curcumin is an antioxidant, it may also fight not-so-friendly free radicals! Unfortunately, curcumin isn’t always well absorbed in the body on its own. Because of this, studies show that it’s smart to couple it with black pepper. This is due to the compound within pepper, called piperine. Pro tip: Sprinkle turmeric powder in your tea and smoothies or try it out in our Indian-Spiced Chickpea Curry Bowl.
Crazy for kombucha? Fantastic news—fermented foods are great for your gut health! Long story short, fermentation is the process of altering food and beverages using microbial growth. Bacteria and yeast (AKA microorganisms) break down glucose and sugar. After all is said and done, the food becomes even more nutritious (and delicious). Some A+ examples include:
- Yogurt (no sugar added)
- Sauerkraut (refrigerated and homemade)
- Sourdough bread
Regularly enjoying a yogurt with breakfast or miso soup for lunch can deliver thousands of healthy probiotics and live cultures into your diet. Over time, this can bolster your gut biome, act as an anti-inflammatory, and aid in digestion. Studies have even shown a link to lowering the risk of cancer. Yet another solid reason to add sauerkraut on your hot dog!
PS: If you’re shopping for kombucha, find bottles that are low in added sugar. Some sugar, however, is actually vital to the growth process, as it feeds the yeast and bacteria.
In a nutshell, many varieties are chock-full of healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and are said to help lower blood pressure and control cholesterol levels. If you want to improve your cardiovascular health, have a heart-to-heart with a cup of walnuts. They’re rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and if enjoyed regularly, can protect against heart disease and blood clots. If you could use more magnesium, snack on some cashews or almonds. Not too nuts about cooking? Add some almonds to your day with our made-for-you meals, like Sautéed French Green Beans or Spanish-Style RightRice®.
Chop up a colorful salad, brew a cup of turmeric tea, or take advantage of work’s kombucha on tap. Functional foods are not only tasty—they can totally take your health game to the next level!