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5 Functional Foods with Healing and Delicious Powers

Functional foods go beyond providing nutrition. They offer preventive qualities that may reduce risk factors for some chronic diseases or even improve symptoms.

A bowl of broth with carrots and herbs arranged on a table
Updated March 29, 2021

By Elizabeth Amisson, RD, Registered Dietitian—Virtua Nutrition & Diabetes Care

Functional foods go beyond providing basic nutrition to your body. They offer preventive or healing qualities that can reduce your risk factors for some diseases, or even improve your symptoms if you have a chronic medical condition. Learn more about the benefits of these five functional foods, as well as tips for incorporating them into your diet.


Turmeric is known to have a variety of healthful benefits. It’s good at reducing the body’s inflammatory response, and may reduce the symptoms of arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. Some research has shown turmeric can improve brain function and concentration, and decrease depression symptoms. 

Turmeric often is used in Indian dishes, but it’s much more versatile than you might think. You can sprinkle turmeric onto a variety of dishes including scrambled eggs and grilled vegetables, as well as use it in soups, like butternut squash soup.

Bone broth

Bone broth is great for aiding in digestion and nutrient absorption. It’s especially helpful if you have “leaky gut syndrome,” a little understood condition that’s primarily characterized by bloating and cramps. Most of our immunity starts in our gut, so when it’s not functioning properly, other symptoms can emerge like fatigue and joint pain. The collagen, amino acids, and minerals in bone broth can further boost the immune system, and help with the health and strength of bones, skin, and joints. And, it's a versatile ingredient that can be used in soups and other dishes.

You can buy different kinds of bone broth in the grocery store, or you can make it yourself. The best bone broth starts with bones from the best meat: Grass-fed beef, cage-free organic poultry, fish, or venison. Put the bones in a pot, cover them with water, set a timer, and be patient—bone broth should be simmered a minimum of 6 hours. The longer you cook it, the more “good stuff” leaches from the bones. Since it takes so long, you might want to cook a lot and freeze the extra for later use.


Kefir enhances immunity, mostly because it helps to repopulate gut flora (good bacteria). People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may find it especially soothing. Kefir also is known to help with allergies, and the high calcium levels can boost bone density. In addition, it’s full of “good” bacteria that break down lactose sugars in the stomach, which is good news for people who are lactose intolerant.

This “liquid yogurt” comes in many varieties from cow’s milk to coconut milk, from plain to sugary sweet (although is best to avoid the sweetened varieties). Kefir is a little more sour than yogurt, so most people add flavoring to make it more palatable. To avoid sugary additives, sprinkle kefir with cinnamon and vanilla. You also can add it to a smoothie, use it to replace buttermilk in creamy salad dressings or other recipes, or even pour it over granola or cereal.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) helps stimulate the digestion process. It’s especially helpful for those who take proton-pump inhibitors (heartburn/gastrointestinal reflux medications) as these can interfere with nutrient absorption. ACV diminishes bloating and gas and can also regulate blood sugar levels. 

Very simply, ACV can be used in place of any recipe that calls for vinegar such as salad dressings or marinades. However, pay attention to the bottle—unfiltered, unpasteurized, organic ACV is thought to have the best health benefits (over the ACV typically offered on shelves with white vinegar).

Avocado oil

Similar to olive oil, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats (omega-9 fatty acids), which have cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins E, K, C, and B vitamins, as well as potassium. Using this healthy oil, helps you absorb more fat-soluble vitamins from leafy greens and other vegetables in your salad. Avocado oil also can help you to maintain more stable blood sugar levels.

Get a personalized approach to healthy eating

Virtua registered dietitians work with your food preferences and health needs to help you develop a healthy eating strategy that fits your lifestyle. 

Call 888-847-8823 to make an appointment.