With the recent rise in popularity of some so-called “superfoods” such as turmeric, acai berries, ginger and so much more, I hope you have started to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods in your diet or at least have started rethinking about what you eat. You may also have started to hear these superfoods referred to as functional foods. You might think…oh dear…not another fancy term that food companies are using to market their products. Well, fret not of another fancy food marketing term.
A food is considered a functional food if it contains high amounts of phytochemicals and/or antioxidants that have a potentially positive effect on your health beyond providing you with the basic nutrition that your body needs to stay functioning. Phytochemicals from functional foods are usually found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and many herbs and spices. Antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E and selenium work to destroy harmful particles in your blood and therefore reduce your risks of various diseases such as heart disease and other complications.  
Below is a list of 25 healthful functional foods that you can start incorporating into your diet.
1. Acai berries
These powerful berries from South America are antioxidant powerhouses and they offer great defense against age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. They contain high amounts of anthocyanin that can lower the levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. It can also help promote your brain health and enhance your memory because anthocyanins have been shown to be effective in inhibiting neuroinflammation, activating synaptic signaling and improving blood flow to the brain.
2. Avocado oil
Avocado oil is not only very flavorful as a salad dressing oil, but it also has a very high smoke point which makes it an excellent choice of fat for high heat cooking such as sautéing. Avocado oil is very high in monounsaturated fats that are extremely beneficial for your heart health. Monounsaturated fats can help improve your cholesterol levels, prevent against arterial damage and thereby reduce your risks of heart disease.
Beans are extremely high in dietary fiber especially the soluble kind. Soluble fiber is very beneficial for your body because it helps you feel fuller longer with overall fewer caloric intake. Research has shown that incorporating more beans in your daily diet and ensuring your intake of dietary fiber can help you with your weight loss efforts and decrease your risk of developing certain diseases especially heart disease and many types of cancer.
Blueberries are packed full of anthocyanin (which gives them the blue color) and other essential phytochemicals that offer a ton of health-promoting benefits. Regular consumption of blueberries has been found to aid weight loss, provide effective prevention against diabetes, retinal injury and inflammation in various parts of your body such as heart, liver, stomach and kidney. Blueberries are great eaten as is or added to salads and smoothies. Whether fresh or frozen, their nutritional benefits and ability to uphold the role of being a functional food is indisputable.
5. Bone Broth
Bone broth is an excellent source of collagen and is critical to your bone and joint health. Bone broth is the pure extraction of collagen from animal bones from slow cooking them over low heat for a very long period of time. When you consume bone broth, your body is able to absorb all of this good gelatinous collagen and readily use them in strengthening your joints and bones. As your body ages, its ability to produce its own collagen will start to decrease. Therefore, it is important to start incorporating collagen as part of your regular diet.
Even though functional foods like fruits and vegetables have already been mentioned, one can’t ignore this incredible crusader in fending off disease. That’s because broccoli has a powerful compound called sulforaphane. This chemical works on a genetic level to turn off cancer genes, leading to cell death and slowing the progression of disease. It is also high in antioxidants and enhances the liver’s detoxification to clear harmful toxins from the body. So, don’t cut yourself short on eating your broccoli!
7. Citrus fruits such as lemons and grapefruits
Citrus fruits include fruits such as lemons, oranges, limes and grapefruits and they contain an excellent amount of vitamin C, folate and fiber. Studies have shown that vitamin C is essential for good health. Other recent studies have also indicated that the phytochemical known as limonoids found in abundance in citrus fruits are particularly effective in preventing certain types of cancer. It is a breeze to incorporate these wonderfully flavorful fruits into your daily diet. This is because they are affordably available all year round and easily accessible at your local supermarket. They are great eaten as is or a great addition to boost and freshen up any dish or smoothie.
Cacao refers to the seeds (or fruit) of the cacao tree, from which cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate are made. Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter). Cocoa powder is raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures and contains high amounts of polyphenols which have been extensively studied for their influence on cardiometabolic health. Results from these studies have shown that regular consumption of cacao (either in the form of cocoa powder or dark chocolate) can reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, and lower your arterial blood pressure if you are dealing with hypertension. So feel free to pop that piece of after-dinner chocolate. Just make sure to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. 
Cranberries are packed full of antioxidants and extremely low in calories. They easily live up to their title as a functional food. They contain excellent amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. They also contain proanthocyanidins, an antioxidant that can help prevent a wide range of diseases such as bladder and kidney ailments, stomach complaints, blood disorders and scurvy. Recently though, cranberries have been better known for its role in preventing urinary tract infections especially for those with recurrent infections due to the high amounts of antioxidants it contains.
10. Fatty fish
Fish especially the fatty ones such as salmon contain a lot of healthful omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for your heart health. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids from healthy fatty fish have been shown to provide effective defense against cardiovascular diseases. Try replacing at least 2 meat portions of protein with fish. Baking a fillet of fish such as salmon in your oven with a few slices of lemon is a simple weeknight dinner preparation that anyone can handle.
Many research studies have been done to better understand the health benefits of probiotics and it is no secret that regular consumption of probiotics whether in the form of a supplement or fermented foods, can help regular and balance the microflora in your intestines, and block the invasion of potential pathogens in your gut. Probiotics are therefore essential for good colon health, immune system and digestive system function. You can find foods high in probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and apple cider vinegar.
Flaxseeds have established itself as a great food source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), lignans, high-quality protein, soluble fiber and phenolic compounds. These antioxidants and nutrients have been found to be protective against certain types of cancer, improve your cholesterol levels and lower your blood pressure. It has also become so easy to incorporate flaxseeds into your diet these days, from whole flaxseeds to ground meal for easy addition to your smoothies, to ready to eat cereals, a fiber bar and baked goods.
Garlic is an extremely healthy aromatic food ingredient you can have in your kitchen. Garlic is a functional food that boasts excellent antimicrobial, anticancer and antioxidant properties due to the wide array of nutrients it contains especially allicin, a major biologically active organosulfur compound. Add garlic to your stir-fry and even salad dressings for that nice flavor punch.
14. Green tea
Green tea has been known to be an excellent weight loss companion because it contains EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate which is a type of antioxidant). EGCG has been shown to aid the breakdown of fats in your body and block the formation of new fat cells. Regular consumption of green tea has also been shown to be very effective against inflammation and the development of certain types of cancers due to its high content of catechins, a group of antioxidants.
Ginger contains a powerful medicinal compound called the gingerol that gives ginger its amazing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Ginger has also been shown to possess anti-diabetic properties; dramatically improving your HbA1c (a marker for long-term blood sugar levels), resulting in a significant improvement in your diabetic condition if you are managing one. Ginger can also be used to treat common digestive problems such as morning sickness and nausea. A simple way to start incorporating ginger into your daily diet is adding some to your smoothies. Try that!
16. Herbal foods and beverages
Many herbal teas such as green or black tea are among the second most widely consumed beverage in the world. That is because teas contain many health-promoting benefits due to their high content of polyphenols, catechins. Green tea includes four major catechins which are epigallocatechin-3-gallate, epigallocatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate and epicatechin. Similarly, other herbs like thyme, oregano, and rosemary have antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-cancer effects.
17. Leafy greens
Leafy greens are packed with antioxidants and very high in vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. They are very low in calories and packed with essential dietary fiber and should be included as part of your healthy daily diet. Consuming leafy greens on a regular basis have been shown to have a beneficial impact on fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Leafy greens also have been found to contain higher amounts of iron compared to red meats and have also been shown to be better absorbed by our bodies than the iron found in red meats. Foods: spinach, kale, broccoli, broccoli rabe, arugula, collard greens, and other leafy greens.
18. Manuka honey
Manuka honey is a particular type of honey produced in New Zealand from bees that feed on the Manuka tree. It contains digestive enzymes, a wide array of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants that have been proven to be beneficial for your overall health. The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of Manuka honey are key to reversing the oxidative damage in your body and also boost your gut health for defense against further inflammation throughout your body.
Nuts are very high in fiber, calcium, vitamin E and B-vitamins. Regular consumption of nuts that contain healthy amounts of monounsaturated fats has also been shown to be beneficial in lowering your overall cholesterol levels, increasing the good ones and lowering the bad ones, thus essential for your heart health.
Oats contain a component called b-glucan and phytochemicals called saponins. These functional components help to reduce total cholesterol and may also help to lower blood pressure. In addition, there is significant evidence that the consumption of this particular plant food can reduce low-density lipoprotein, (LDL) cholesterol which is the not so favorable type of cholesterol. If consuming oatmeal, make sure to eat the “slow cooked” kind like steel cut oats and not the instant variety to get these health benefits.
21. Omega-3 enriched eggs
Hens that are fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids are generally provided with a diet high in flaxseeds, fish oil and algae. Thus, the eggs from these hens are higher in omega-3 fatty acids and contain a decreased amount of saturated fats. Cartons that are labeled omega-3/DHA-enriched eggs can contain up to 350 mg of omega-3s per egg compared to regular eggs which only contain 60 mg per egg.
The difference in health benefits are extraordinary as well as higher omega-3 eggs can help to lower the risk of heart disease by lowering triglycerides and total cholesterol. They are the perfect food for weight loss, immune-boosting and bone strengthening high vitamin D.
22. Tomatoes and tomato products
Tomatoes contain an excellent amount of a phytochemical called lycopene which has been found to be very beneficial for reducing your risk of prostate cancer. Regular consumption of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables high in lycopene has also been found to provide your body with protection against heart diseases and osteoporosis.
Turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin, which gives turmeric its medicinal properties. Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on your body and it is a very potent antioxidant. When consumed together with ground black pepper, it has been shown that your body will be able to absorb these healthful curcumin compounds a lot better.
24. Whole grains
Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and millet are fiber powerhouses that have become readily available at our local supermarkets these days. Regular consumption of recommended amounts of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble have been proven to be essential for colon and gut health, and help your body fight against inflammation and insulin resistance. 
25. Wine and grapes
Drinking red wine (in moderation of course!) has been shown to reduce coronary heart disease. The high phenolic content of red wine, which is about 20-50 times higher than white wine, is due to the addition of the grape skins during the fermentation process. The positive benefits of red wine have been shown to prevent oxidation of LDL, a critical component of clogging of the arteries. However, overconsumption of red wine could have the opposite effect on certain cancers like breast cancer. So remember, moderation is key! 
As you can see from this simple short list of functional foods, incorporating them into your daily diet is not a daunting task. Functional foods can now be found easily at your local supermarkets almost all year round. There should be no reasons why you shouldn’t start incorporating at least a few of these foods into your daily diet. Let today be the day that you get on your way to a healthier, nutritionally more effective diet.
Read more about What is Functional Nutrition — the benefits and how it can help you to achieve optimal health.
Also, here’s another article about When Should You Work With A Functional Nutritionist?
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1. British Nutrition Foundation: Functional Foods.
2. Food Science: What Are Functional Foods?
3. Humana: Top 10 Functional Foods That Are Known to Support Healthy Blood Pressure.
4. NCBI: Functional foods and their role in cancer prevention and health promotion: a comprehensive review.
5. Wikipedia: Functional Foods.
6. Forbes: Gut Health and Functional Foods Top Charts for 2019 Trends.