I talk a lot about functional foods and how, by including more foods with exceptional nutrient profiles or a simple abundance of the essential nutrients our bodies need, we can help sustain good health and fight certain diseases as we age.
But the realm of nutrition is vast and, at times, perplexing. Amidst the plethora of dietary choices available, certain functional foods stand out due to their impressive health benefits. Today, I will share my top 5 functional foods and dive deep into why they’ve earned a special place in my heart (and pantry).
It is important to acknowledge that whole, or low processed foods are mostly functional. Each will have its own values, and depending on our individual needs or intolerances, some foods also can harm our bodies. When taken in moderation, most natural foods are great for us, but variety is essential to not overindulge and shift the normal balance within ourselves.
Each of my top five favourite functional foods has a unique nutrient and flavour profile, but some have similar potential benefits. Others are everyday faves that we all use regularly but might not know about what they do for our bodies.
Here are the specific reasons why I love each of these five functional foods;
1. Chilli Pepper Powders
Chilli pepper powders are not just about spicing up your meals. They come packed with capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic heat. But beyond the zing, Pepper Powders are touted for promoting digestive health by effectively increasing the secretion of gastric juices, improving digestion and providing relief from issues like constipation. Chilli powders remove harmful bacteria from the stomach, digestive tract and intestines, keeping them healthy and functioning correctly.
Also known for:
- Metabolism Boost: Capsaicin has been linked with increasing metabolic rate, which in turn can help in burning calories.
- Pain Relief: It has analgesic properties and has been used in topical treatments to alleviate pain.
- Antioxidant Rich: Chili peppers contain Vitamin C and Vitamin A, which have strong antioxidant properties.
Why I love it: Apart from the heat and flavour they bring to my dishes, chilli pepper powders have been a boon for my metabolic rate. Plus, a pinch of this spice goes a long way!
2. Fermented Foods and Drinks:
Whether it’s Merfs hot sauces, yogurt, kombucha or kimchi, a wide variety of fermented foods and drinks regularly appear in my diet. Fermented Mushrooms have combined probiotic power and help gut biome maintain a well-balanced bacterium.
- Gut Health: They are rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut.
- Vitamin Boost: Fermentation often increases the vitamin content, particularly B vitamins.
- Bioavailability: Enhances the absorption of certain nutrients.
Why I love it: Maintaining gut health is crucial for overall well-being as it has been linked to brain health and certain cognitive disorders. Incorporating fermented foods into my diet has improved my digestion and introduced me to a world of flavours and recipes.
Oats are a nutritional powerhouse and offer a multitude of health benefits. Oats have long been celebrated as a staple breakfast food, and for all the great reasons below, I always make sure oats are on my weekly menu.
- Rich Source of Nutrients: Oats are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They contain manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, folate, and vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B5 (pantothenic acid) among others. These nutrients are essential for various physiological processes and overall well-being.
- Soluble Fibre – Beta-Glucan: One of the standout components of oats is beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre. It has multiple health benefits:
- Cholesterol Reduction: Beta-glucan has been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Blood Sugar Control: It can improve insulin response and reduce blood sugar levels, particularly beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes.
- Gut Health: Soluble fibre also promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can enhance digestion and protect against certain diseases.
- Antioxidant Properties: Oats contain a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are not found in many other foods. These compounds help reduce blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide, which aids in the dilation of blood vessels. Moreover, they have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties, making oats beneficial for skin health as well.
- Heart Health: Apart from the cholesterol-lowering effects of beta-glucan, the whole grain nature of oats can contribute to heart health. Consuming whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
- Weight Management: Oats have a low glycemic index and are filling, which means they provide a slow and steady release of energy. This can help control appetite and delay hunger, potentially aiding in weight management.
- Skin Health: Colloidal oatmeal (oats that have been finely ground) has long been used as a natural remedy to treat various skin conditions like eczema, burns, and rashes. The anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties of oats can soothe and protect the skin.
- Digestive Health: Oats are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. While soluble fibre (like beta-glucan) has benefits for the heart and blood sugar levels, insoluble fibre adds bulk to stool and aids in regular bowel movements, preventing constipation.
- Boosting Immunity: The beta-glucan in oats can also help neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) travel to the site of an infection more quickly and enhance their ability to eliminate the bacteria they find.
- Rich in Protein: Oats contain more protein than many other grains. This makes them a valuable plant-based source of protein, which can support muscle growth and repair.
Why I love it: I love oats for their creamy texture and versatile flavour. They offer a quick, nutritious start to my day and adapt beautifully to a variety of tasty toppings. Plus, they leave me feeling full and energized for hours!
4. Sea Buckthorn Berries: These bright orange berries are a goldmine of nutrients.
- Omega-7: the sea buckthorn berry, is one of the few plant sources of this essential fatty acid, promoting skin health.
- Vitamin C: Contains nearly 12 times more Vitamin C than oranges!
- Anti-inflammatory: Helps reduce inflammation in the body.
Why I love it: Sea buckthorn berries have been my go-to for radiant hair & skin, better after-workout recovery, and an immunity boost. Their tangy flavour is also a bonus in smoothies and jams.
What is Sea Buckthorn you ask? Here is a little introduction.
I’ve always been a big fan of mushrooms for their taste and outstanding properties. If my kids could quote me on anything, it would be, “Eat your mushrooms – they are food for your brains!”
Mushrooms like goldens, oysters, white button and shiitakes were part of a study conducted in Singapore that concluded that participants who ate more than 2 cups of mixed mushrooms a week benefited from a 50% lower likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment, which is considered a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Even those who ate just one cup experienced benefits.
Beyond this amazingness, mushrooms can absorb vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or UV light. Wild mushrooms are best, but even exposing white buttons, portobello, or creminis to sunlight for 15 minutes can provide the human body with its recommended daily amount.
Prebiotic foods are essential to building and maintaining a healthy gut biome, and mushrooms are mostly fibre, making them an excellent food source for the beneficial bacteria growing in your belly. Mushroom polysaccharides, their most abundant carbohydrate, were shown to help grow healthy numbers of good bacteria through the stomach down to the colon. Recent studies have linked gut health to sustaining a robust immune system and better long-term cognitive function.
- Immune Support: Certain mushrooms, like shiitake and reishi, are known to support the immune system.
- Rich in Vitamins, Especially Vitamin D, when exposed to sunlight.
- Brain Health: Some mushrooms, like lion’s mane, have been associated with nerve growth factor production, which can aid in brain health.
Why I love it:
They’re versatile in recipes and benefit both the body and mind. From soups stir fry to teas, mushrooms have seamlessly fit into my dietary routine.
Sea Buckthorn and Strawberry Kvass Recipe
As my final note to my top five favourite functional foods. Here is my simple recipe for Sea Buckthorn and strawberry Kvass: Berries are fantastic functional foods, and consuming blueberries, strawberries, and seaberries throughout the week is an excellent way to maintain optimum antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
2 cups frozen sea buckthorn berries
2 pints fresh (perfectly ripe) strawberries.
2 tablespoons non-pasteurized honey.
4 to 6 cups of 3% brine.
Dilute the honey in the brine before incorporating the berries and brine in a glass jar, filling to about 1 inch from the lid. Ferment over 3 to 5 days. Burp the pot and taste the Kvass daily to determine its readiness. Chill in the fridge and enjoy!