10 Best Functional Foods for All-Around Good Health

Add these foods into your diet for more nutrients and flavor!

The tastes and textures in these beautiful coconut mango chia pudding cups are perfect!

Your diet plays a huge role in your health. Regularly incorporating more nutritious ingredients into your meals is a great way to shed some excess pounds and even reduce your risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, eating more functional foods is a great way to boost energy, increase focus, improve sleep, and more! We’ve hand selected 10 of the best functional foods for all-around good health. By adding more of them into your diet, you can reap numerous, long term health and wellness benefits.

What are Functional Foods?

What are functional foods?

Functional foods are defined as foods that have disease-preventing or health-promoting benefits in addition to their nutritive value. These additional benefits extend further than just macronutrients like protein, fat, and carbs. They also include beneficial compounds like omega-3s, antioxidants, and specific beneficial compounds. The term was initially coined in 1984 in Japan to describe a “tertiary function” in food, coming behind primary general nutrition and secondary taste preferences. Functional foods are all around us and contribute to our health every day. It should be noted that while functional foods can not single-handedly cure or prevent illness on their own, they are beneficial when included in a balanced, healthy diet. Positive lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise, proper sleep, and stress management also play a role. 

Different Types of Functional Foods

Tropical fruits are loaded with nutrients for overall good health.

There are many different types of functional foods from different sources. There are foods that have been enriched, meaning nutrients that were lost during food processing have been added back in. Fortified foods contain a new nutrient that is not naturally found in the food, but has been added in. Take vitamin D in milk, for example. Some foods have been altered (i.e. reducing the fat content in skim milk, or low-fat peanut butter) or enhanced (eggs that have more omega-3 because the chickens have more omega-3’s in their feed). And then, there are foods that are not altered and are labeled as functional when naturally grown. Each of these categories is described as functional because they offer nutrients that are beneficial to our health. However, in this article, we’ll be focusing on the naturally occurring functional foods for all-around good health.

Fungi

Easy 5-Ingredient Garlic Herb Sauteed Mushrooms

Fungi include yeasts, molds, and mushrooms. This food group may have antioxidant, antitumor and antimicrobial properties. Interestingly enough, mushroom proteins are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that you require from food. Try adding some mushrooms or other types of fungi, like nutritional yeast to your next meal. Molds found in cheeses are also good options!

Seafood

Seafood is a super healthy functional food.

Seafood contains so many fantastic nutrients like lean protein, beneficial omega-3s, and special minerals like zinc and selenium that are important for fertility and skin health. Different types of seafood include fish and shellfish. No matter what the source, these ocean-based foods may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and even improve brain and eye function. Not used to cooking up seafood? Try some of our quick and easy seafood recipes to add this functional food to your diet in a simple and healthy way.

Tropical Fruits

The tastes and textures in these beautiful coconut mango chia pudding cups are perfect!

Tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, avocados, coconut, and papaya are rich in essential vitamins, antioxidants, and special compounds like bromelain and tryptophan. Bromelain, found in pineapple, is great for reducing inflammation and swelling, while tryptophan, found in bananas, can produce happy hormones and boost your mood! Avocado and coconut are excellent sources of healthy fats, great for skin and hair health. 

Tea

Tea is one of the best functional foods!

Tea contains antioxidants called flavonols that have been studied and shown to reduce inflammation and risk for chronic diseases. Different types of tea can have different benefits. For example, peppermint tea can help with digestion while chamomile improves sleep. Learn more about different types of teas from our list of 7 Herbal Teas That Are Great For Your Body.

Herbs 

Herbs are full of beneficial nutrients that are good for your health!

Different herbs offer different benefits. The wider variety you consume, the better! Greens like parsley and basil promote proper digestion while herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage can ease chronic pain and boost immunity. While not loved by all, cilantro has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even seizure severity in those with epilepsy. Try topping your next dish with a sprinkle of herbs to get some of the benefits from this functional food!

Spices

This recipe is a tasty alternative to regular milk. Enjoy it at breakfast time or as a light treat after dinner.

Similar to herbs, there are just so many types of spices that all have beneficial functionality. For example, cinnamon has been shown to support healthy blood sugar, while cayenne pepper can reduce chronic pain. Cloves are beneficial for reducing inflammation due to their high antioxidant concentration and black pepper can support healthy gut function. To get all of these benefits, spice up your life by adding some new and unique seasoning to all of your recipes! In the meantime, learn about 7 more spices with insane health benefits.

Cruciferous Vegetables

This crunchy kale salad with creamy dijon dressing is the perfect combination of flavors and textures.

Cruciferous vegetables include veggies such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. They are high in fiber, antioxidants, and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin K. Research shows they can help decrease the risk of cancer and inflammation.

Berries

Summer fruit quinoa salad

Berries like strawberries, blueberries, black berries, and cranberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. They are great for heart health, may decrease your risk of cancer and infection, and also support healthy vision. Try a berry salad or parfait for a delicious way to fit these nutrient powerhouses into your balanced diet. 

Ancient Grains

This yummy Buddha bowl is an awesome, easy meal option!

The term “ancient grains” was coined in recent years to describe grains that have been grown and remain unchanged for thousands of years. This group includes whole grains such as spelt, farro, barley, teff, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and rice. High in fiber, folate, and iron, these grains have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even cancer. There are so many different ways to prepare these functional foods, from bowls, to salads, to side dishes!

Nuts

A sweet and spicy flavor combo that is out of this world!

Nuts are nutrient powerhouses, high in healthy omega-3 and omega-6, fiber, vitamin E, and essential minerals. Almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios are all fantastic nut options, each containing their own special compounds. For example, brazil nuts contain the essential mineral selenium, great for heart disease and mental function. Add nuts to your next snack or salad for a delicious and nutritious treat.

Enjoyed this article about the best functional foods for all-around good health? Let us know in the comments! 

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Kelsey Butler, MS, RDN

Kelsey Butler is a Registered Dietitian and recipe developer. From a young age, Kelsey found a love for creating delicious recipes. Now, with a Master's in Nutritional Sciences, Kelsey uses her culinary skills to create healthy and unique recipes for many different diets. She is passionate about creating a healthy relationship with all foods and recipes that everyone can enjoy. Kelsey has a passion for cooking, but she also enjoys the outdoors, staying active, and traveling. She is currently living with her partner in New Zealand.

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