5 Functional Foods With Healing and Delicious Powers
By Elizabeth Amisson, RD, Registered Dietitian—Virtua Nutrition
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. Here are the benefits of 5 functional foods and our tips for incorporating them into your diet.
Turmeric is known to have a wide 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 is often used in Indian foods, but it’s much more versatile than you might think. You can sprinkle turmeric onto a variety of dishes. I’ve tried it in scrambled eggs and grilled vegetables, and, it’s delicious in butternut squash soup, too.
Bone broth is really 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 immune system is 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.
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, and get ready to set a timer—bone broth should be simmered for anywhere from 6-40 hours. The longer you cook it, the more “good stuff” leaches from the bones. I use it as a stock for soups and other recipes. 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) will find it especially soothing. Kefir is also known to help with allergies, and the high calcium levels can boost bone density. Also, it’s full of “good” bacteria that break down lactose sugars in the stomach, so even people with lactose intolerance can enjoy this healthy yogurt drink.
This “liquid yogurt” comes in many varieties from cow’s milk to coconut milk, from plain to sugary sweet (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, I sprinkle kefir with cinnamon and vanilla. You can also add kefir to a smoothie, or use it to make a creamy salad dressing, or even pour it over granola or cereal. I also substitute kefir for buttermilk when a recipe calls for it.
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. It can be added to salad dressing, and I find it makes tasty coleslaw. Pay attention to the bottle, however: Unfiltered, unpasteurized, organic ACV is thought to have the best health benefits (over the ACV typically offered on shelves with white vinegar).
Avocado oil is full of omega fatty acids, which can help reduce bad cholesterol and triglycerides; it can also improve the health of blood vessels. It contains vitamins like A, D, and E that are great for healthy skin.
A great feature of avocado oil is its high “smoke point” (the temperature at which the oil burns and begins to smoke). When oil smokes, it loses many of its nutritive properties, and begins to release potentially harmful substances (called free radicals). Therefore, using avocado oil for cooking is a great alternative for olive or other oils. Its mild, smooth flavor isn’t much different than olive oil, either. I like to use it to marinate meat for grilling. I also substitute it for olive oil in my salad dressing recipes.
Updated June 27, 2017