Food is about more than just keeping us nourished. It’s about more than just converting macronutrients to calories, calories to expendable energy and repeating the process.
It’s about more than just absorbing nutrients.
Today, with our busy lives and higher stress levels, increased exposure to toxins and chemicals (in the air and our food), and our decreased levels of sleep, we need food to do more for us than just provide energy. We need food to have a function.
Functional foods are those that have a positive affect on your health and wellbeing beyond that of simply their nutrient value. In other words, they aren’t good for you just because they are high in particular vitamins or minerals, they are also good for you because they have added benefits such as anti-inflammatroy properties, disease fighting properties etc.
While there are lots of functional foods, here’s some that you can start integrating into your diet today and you’ll start to see the benefits to your health and wellbeing:
//Flaxseed | These are a vegan’s best friend when it comes to consuming enough essential fatty acids (the best source of which is typically from fish). Essential fatty acids are essential because our body cannot make them and they are important for healthy brain function, reducing inflammation, maintaining healthy skin and aiding in digestion. They are rich in Omega 3 and 6 and a great source of fiber, and also act as a great binding and thickening agent in vegan baking, breads and grain based products.
What is flaxseed good for and how can I use it?
- Use for general health in helping to maintain a balanced diet, as well as improving skin health and reducing outbreaks, reducing inflammation for athletes, or in diseases such as arthritis and irritable bowel disease. EFAs are also essential for lubrication of the digestive tract to promote food breakdown and absorption and elimination, helping to reduce constipation or nutrient deficiencies due to poor absorption.
- Always consume flaxseeds ground, and add to your smoothies, sprinkle on top of oatmeal or consume as an oil, one tablespoon per day. Limit heat exposure (i.e. not for cooking), as this leads to rancidity and minimizes the nutritional value.
//Turmeric | You are likely quite familiar with this ingredient, if for nothing else but because it’s been gaining a lot of popularity lately with the rise of golden milk. Turmeric, actually a root, is well known for its yellow colour, and it is partly this that makes it such a beneficial food, offering high levels of antioxidants and acting as a powerful addition to your diet for helping to fight free radicals. This yellow colour comes from curcumin, a chemical produced naturally by the turmeric plant, and also in ginger (just in smaller quantities). Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory effects, helping reduce inflammation within the body.
What is turmeric good for and how can I use it?
- It helps fight inflammation in any inflammation induced illnesses and afflictions, such as arthritis, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and gut dysfunctions
- You can use it in beverages such as golden milk, or turmeric tea, use it in curries, in your smoothies and juices, and it makes a great seasoning for veggies and legumes.
//Apple Cider Vinegar | If you are going to be using apple cider vinegar as a functional food, be sure to purchase unfiltered vinegar, with the mother. It will likely specify this in the ingredients, and it essentially means that the fermentation benefits of the vinegar have not been filtered out or boiled off. As a fermented product, apple cider vinegar is very good for promoting good gut health, rebalancing gut flora and reducing indigestion.
What is apple cider vinegar good for and how can I use it?
- Helps treat issues of the gut such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), acid reflux, poor digestion, low/high stomach acid and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Mix it with water and drink up, or make an elixir using vinegar, lemon juice, ginger and some fennel seeds.
//Kefir | Another probiotic option, I am a huge fan of coconut milk kefir, which I ferment twice a week. It offers great benefits for boosting your healthy gut bacteria, and helping to manage your gut microflora. Your stomach needs to have the proper balance of good and bad bacteria in order to facilitate healthy digestion and elimination. Too much bad bacteria means they kill off the good bacteria by using the resources they need to survive, and the bad bacteria also produces wastes which can lead to stomach discomfort, gas, bloating and constipation or diarrhoea.
What is kefir good for and how can I use it?
- It is good for rebalancing gut flora in issues such as candida, SIBO and general dysbiosis as well as promoting overall good digestion. It may also help eliminate symptoms such as gas, bloating and constipation if they are as a result of problems within the gut biome.
- Drink it plain, straight out of the bottle, or add it to your smoothies or on top of oats.
//Leafy Green Vegetables | If there is one thing you add to your diet, it should be leafy green vegetables. Their function is multi, meaning they are packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin K, Vitamin C and Vitamin A, as well as magnesium and calcium, they aid in detoxification and are loaded with antioxidants. They are a fiber house as well, and are not to be missed when you are trying to clean up your diet and incorporate better food choices.
What are greens good for and how can I use them?
- Greens are good to help lower cholesterol and improve digestion in issues such as constipation, they are good for body detoxification and are important in maintaining a healthy immune system.
- Add them to your smoothies, turn them into a salad, or sneak them into stir fries, pastas and veggie burgers. You often can’t taste the greens, but adding them in any where you can is a great way to get your daily dose!
//Garlic | You may know it as your favourite ingredient to add to pasta and pesto, but garlic is one of nature’s superfoods. Offering anti-microbial, anti-viral and antibacterial properties, garlic is great for boosting immunity, staving off a cold or viral infection and even fighting bacterial infections, with enough time. It is also packed with antioxidants, meaning it fights your viruses and your free radicals at the same time!
What is garlic good for and how can I use it?
- Garlic is best used when you feel a cold coming on or are fighting a flu. It can be great for kids suffering from colds and chest congestion, sore throat and ear infections. It is also great for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure when consumed regularly.
- Add it to your food (in a generous amount) for overall health and blood pressure/cholesterol assistance, but if you are using it for its antiviral properties, you need to eat a lot of it! Or, crush up 3-4 cloves and brew into a tea with lemon, ginger, and a pinch of cayenne.
//Chaga mushrooms | Chaga mushrooms are my new favourite functional food. These mushrooms are functional foods because they are adaptogens. This means, they enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress, both physical and psychological. They also have higher levels of antioxidants than the acai berry, and as a result are seen as beneficial for helping reduce your risk of cancer and other illnesses associated with free radical damage in the body. Furthermore, they help lower cholesterol and stimulate the immune system. All these effects chalk up to giving your body a great boost of natural energy, and hence they are being seen as alternatives to coffee and tea.
What are chagas good for, and how do I use them?
- Good for helping prevent cancer, providing energy, reducing toxic build up in the body and boosting your immune system during cold and flu season. Their adaptogen category means that essentially, they help the body re-balance and regulate whatever may be out of whack!
- Prepare as a coffee, or tea using pre made packages (such as these), or from your own dried chaga, ground into a powder.
//Endive (and other bitter greens) | Bitter foods such as endive, radicchio and bitter melon are the foods that support your liver. Everything that we eat and drink is filtered through the liver to have toxins and non-digestible particles removed. When we consume a poor diet, or consume lots of alcohol, the liver’s functional pathways get clogged or don’t work as well and it may require support. Consuming bitter foods can offer this support, and is also important when you are cleansing and detoxing.
What are bitter greens good for and how can I use them?
- Good for issues related to the liver or detoxification, such as alcohol consumption, estrogen dominance, food and chemical allergies or sensitivities, toxic overload from poor eating habits, and during cleansing and detoxification.
- The best way to consume them is raw in a salad, or slightly chargrill.
There are lots of other functional foods, including superfood powders and berries, nuts and seeds and other fruits and vegetables. Aim to include a wide variety in your diet, and if you are having healthy problems or are constantly getting sick, take some time to consider the role your diet may be playing, and most of all, what foods you could start eating to improve your healthy and wellbeing.