Nutrition is an evolving concept that allows us to tailor our everyday menus to our own liking, but also to the very specific needs we all have. The basic premise of food is that it needs to serve a multi-layered purpose: deliver nutrients, preserve immune system resilience, prevent deficiencies and provide sustenance. Beyond that, we have changed our approach to eating to make sure we also enjoy the flavors and texture of our meals, so we’ve turned it into a culinary form of art.
In fact, eating regularly and well is one of the most important healthy habits we can embrace to ensure longevity and wellbeing. However, the health and nutrition world is brimming with buzzwords some of us have minimal understanding for, and yet, they can redefine how we perceive and organize our eating habits. The idea of functional foods is one of those revolutionary concepts that can help you make smarter eating decisions and improve your wellbeing across the board.
This approach to nutrition came to life in Japan in the 1980s. Although we can safely say that most foods are functional by nature, researchers in Japan wanted to empower people to pick specific foods to boost their longevity, lifelong wellness and quality of life. The food we eat plays a crucial role in achieving all those goals and, while not every government in the world has a specific regulation for the notion of functional foods, we can easily distinguish between those that are, and those that aren’t.
For example, nutrient-dense foods with health-boosting properties fall under this category. Take whole grains as a good example; while this food is great to keep you full, you also get plenty of health benefits. Whole grains serve several purposes: they give you ample dietary fiber to improve digestion and nutrient absorption, they serve as a steady source of energy, they help lower bad cholesterol and they regulate blood sugar levels.
Being nutrient-dense and so potent in terms of keeping your health in check, functional foods, as well as supplements encouraged by medical experts, have the potential to elevate your quality of life. This means preventing fatigue, improving your energy levels, focus and sleep, and preventing nutrient deficiencies that can lead to numerous symptoms and health issues down the road.
Choosing functional foods such as leafy greens, nuts and nut berries during pregnancy and in your post-partum menu also allows for proper growth and development for the baby and recovery for the mother. Better yet, functional foods loaded with macro and micronutrients are there to help invigorate your immune health, making you more impervious to seasonal illnesses.
Functional medicine as a whole promotes the idea of treating the root cause, and not just the symptom, which is why experts in the field encourage patients and people looking for ways to improve their diet to reach for functional foods. They help reach and maintain nutritional balance, which can be a difficult goal to achieve if we only choose foods that are to our liking and are convenient to consume.
To help ensure this balance, many experts rely on functional medicine supplements in addition to functional foods. This is especially common for people who already have a deficiency and an underlying health issue stemming from poor food choices, so supplementation helps you get back on the right track while you reshape your eating habits in the process.
Then again, there are disorders that prevent people from using all the nutrients available in certain foods, be it some form of food intolerance or sensitivity, or a genetic issue, making it significantly simpler to introduce functional supplements that complement their functional eating habits.
Much like you apply sunscreen to keep your skin safe from the harmful impact of the sun’s rays, your dietary choices serve as a protective foundation for preventing diseases over the long haul, not just for seasonal colds and the flu. Giving your body the right ammunition in the form of functional food (such as vitamin C-loaded, citrus fruits) means providing your immune system with ample resources to ward off infections, chronic illnesses, as well as stress-induced health issues.
For example, functional foods that benefit your heart, such as berries that are packed with antioxidants can prevent chronic inflammation that might lead to heart disease. Fatty fish such as salmon is ideal to keep your brain healthy and resilient in life, and in old age. Fiber-rich foods help regulate sugar levels and insulin production, enabling your body to stave off type 2 diabetes.
Food is more than just a way for us to survive or a source of palatable pleasure when those cravings kick in. When you focus on the function and purpose of each item on your menu, you’ll start choosing ingredients that make more sense for your overall well being, and not just your caloric needs. Hopefully, the notion of functional food will become the primary way for us to perceive our menus and we’ll all adapt our mindset to eat in a mindful, function-focused way to boost our quality of life and lifelong wellbeing.