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Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well!

A healthy dose of my diet, nutrition and lifestyle hacks to improve your health. Every bite counts!

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What the F are functional foods?

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

If you've been with me for a while, you'll know by now what a whole food is.

Here's a recap just in case:

Whole foods are foods that are used or consumed as close to their natural state as possible.

In this natural state, whole foods are recognised by the body and, as long your digestive health is good, can be properly digested and metabolised.

With minimal or no processing, whole foods retain more nutrients in complementary ratios that support normal, healthy physiological functions. At the same time, wholefoods lack additives preservatives and excess nutrients like sugar and salt, that may negatively impact healthy physiological function.

That's the speed-dating version of whole foods (you can learn more here).

Functional foods take whole foods to the next level.

Foods with specific health benefits
Functional foods

Functional foods are almost always whole foods. Some functional foods combine whole food ingredients to produce another food with exceptional health benefits. An example of this is sauerkraut, which is just cabbage, with water and salt. Each ingredient is a whole food and the resulting sauerkraut is a functional food.

Both whole foods and functional foods have exceptional health benefits. As noted, they have abundant nutrients that are easily broken down and absorbed by the body where they are put to work supporting the structure and function of every cell, enzyme and organ.

Functional foods differ slightly as they can be used for personal nutrition to improve or support function where it may be lacking or impaired.

Using the example of sauerkraut again, as a functional food, sauerkraut can be consumed before meals to initiate the production of digestive enzymes, preparing the body to breakdown incoming foods. It contains natural probiotics that increase the number and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut which has a range of flow-on health benefits. Sauerkraut also stimulates healthy, consistent bowel movements. Together, these 'functions' make sauerkraut a functional food with specific benefits for digestive health.

Functional foods are 'food as medicine,' in action. They not only support normal function, they add targeted help to specific problem areas.

A few excellent examples of functional foods are:

Beetroot: Beets contain many vitamins, minerals, fibres and phytonutrients, that contribute to general health. Like most vegetables they gave antiinflammatory and antioxidant properties. Above this, specific active nutrients in beetroot (called betalains, plus nitrates that form cardio-supportive nitrites in the body,) demonstrate measurable improvements in hypertension, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders and type 2 diabetes (1). The action of these nutrients assist to lower blood lipids (cholesterol), blood glucose and blood pressure, as well as improving athletic performance (1, 2). As a cleansing food, beetroot has a positive impact on liver and kidney function too (2). And of course, unless extremely over consumed, there are no side effects. So eat up! Start with this delicious beetroot salad.

example of functional foods
Fresh beetroot

My next functional food favourite is:

Blueberries: Tiny, tasty and with impressive functions. A 2019 review credited moderate intake of blueberries and/or anthocyanins (their most active nutrient), with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, improved weight maintenance and neuroprotection (3). Again, much of the health capacity of a blueberry is attributed to antioxidant and anti inflammatory activity, however, it's the concentration of anthocyanins that make blueberries functional for health. The same review concluded 'a moderate intake of one-third cup of blueberries a day can mitigate the risk of diseases and conditions of major socioeconomic importance in the Western world.' (3).

1/3 cup a day - too easy! Add it to your brekky smoothie!

examples of functional foods
Fresh blueberries

In nutrition, we work with clients and provide dietary advice and plans using specific functional foods to target an individual's personal health concerns.

Often, functional foods are given in supplement form to increase intake and boost the impact of a specific nutrient (or several). Turmeric and Omega 3 are examples of functional foods used this way.


When you want to support and maintain healthy weight and normal healthy physiological function, eat a healthy whole food diet 80-90% of the time.

If you need specific support for a health concern, make an appointment to see a nutritionist and use functional foods and supplements targeted to your needs.

Hope that helps! If you have a question, always feel free to drop me a line & ask!

1. Ceclu L, Oana-Viorela N (2020) Red Beetroot: Composition and Health Effects - A Review. J Nutri Med Diet Care 6:043.

2. Chen L, Zhu Y, Hu Z, Wu S, Jin C. Beetroot as a functional food with huge health benefits: Antioxidant, antitumor, physical function, and chronic metabolomics activity. Food Sci Nutr. 2021 Sep 9;9(11):6406-6420. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.2577. PMID: 34760270; PMCID: PMC8565237

3. Kalt, W., Cassidy, A., Howard, L. R., Krikorian, R., Stull, A. J., Tremblay, F., & Zamora-Ros, R. (2020). Recent research on the health benefits of blueberries and their anthocyanins. Advances in Nutrition, 11(2), 224–236.

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