What are Functional Foods?

By Marie Veselsky, RD, LD, CDE, BC-ADM


Functional Foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Oatmeal is a familiar example of a functional food because it naturally contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. Some foods are modified to have health benefits. An example is orange juice that’s been fortified with calcium for bone health.

Spices have been used for centuries, not only to give food flavor, but also for their health benefits. Generally, the leaf of a plant used in cooking is referred to as an herb, and any other part of the plant, often dried, as a spice. National nutrition guidelines stress the importance of consuming a wide variety of food. Herbs and spices naturally fit within such programs.  Turmeric is an example of a functional food because research shows it is naturally anti-inflammatory and a slight blood thinner.

Another example of a functional food is chocolate. Chocolate contains cocoa butter, flavonoids, carbohydrates and vitamins. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer certain health benefits. They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found in plants.) There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds which are found in a wide variety of foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. They help protect plants by shielding them from environmental toxins and helping repair damage.

Obviously, foods such as twinkies, diet and regular sodas, processed carbs such as pies, cakes and cookies, would not be considered functional foods.

Where can you find functional foods?  Whatever was meant to sustain us or benefit us was put on this earth to begin with.   Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, raw nuts,  spices and herbs.

So remember the best bet to help promote good overall health is “healthy choices, healthy life,” which would include increasing the amount of “real foods” or functional foods into your diet and cut down on processed food especially processed carbs.





It’s Your Health and Your Choice! ™