As soon as I think we are turning the corner from a weight focused society to a healthy whole being society, it never fails that my next client will have a way of reminding me that we still have a lot of work to do. My approach to one-on-one counseling is gentle nutrition with intuitive eating. Gentle nutrition means that we don’t count calories, protein, or fiber but focus on foods that provide sustained nutrition and increased satisfaction. That looks different for everyone but I find everyone can benefit from this approach. Not only do I find my clients have healthful outcomes, more importantly, it creates a joyful experience (and quite frankly an entire world) free from the restrictive (and totally not productive) diet mindset. When we aren’t preoccupied with calories or the content of food, it frees up SO much mental energy to be creative, active, and fully connect with the world around us.

On a path towards understanding which foods can be satisfying and have a potentially positive effect on our well being, we may discuss the role of functional foods and incorporating them into the day. Again, this looks different for everyone, but I thought it would be fun to do a post that talked a bit more about functional foods.

So you may ask, what is a functional food?

According to Wikipedia: 

“A functional food is a food given an additional function by adding new ingredients or more of existing ingredients. The term may also apply to traits purposely bred into existing edible plants, such as purple or gold potatoes having enriched anthocyanin or carotenoid contents, respectively.”

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

“whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence.”

What this translates to is consuming foods for their whole nutritive content instead of being hyper focused on the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat).  Functional foods is a really broad umbrella and contain whole foods (like nuts and seeds) or modified foods (like yogurt and kefir) most of the time.

Functional foods do not have a legal or governmental regulation on the definition, so it is possible you’ll see some nontraditional foods being labeled as a functional food. However, what I’m referring to is functional whole plant-based foods that provide more than what most nutrition labels convey.

Why should I be consuming functional foods?

Everyone has a different reason but for me in my practice, having clients focus on consuming functional foods can be another angle to try and get you to consume more plants. Honestly. Fiber isn’t sexy (no matter how I try!). Plant-based protein is getting sexier. But what if I say:

  • How do you feel about consuming foods that decrease inflammation?
  • Oh, you want to improve your heart health? Let’s chat about soy.
  • Do you want to improve your gut microbiome? Have you tried kombucha?

Those are the kinds of questions that tend to perk up ears.

I mean, if I started to tell you the science and evidenced backed research why soy is important for your heart health, I might lose you.. So, I’ll refrain for now 😉

Consuming functional foods can give you a WHY, can give you a purpose for consuming food for more than energy (which food is SO much more than energy and calories anyway). This might sound hippy dippy but I think functional foods help connect us to something bigger than ourselves.

When we focus on more functional foods, we can feel better about the actions we’re taking to improve our health.

When we feel better about the choices we’re making, our thoughts become more positive.

When we have positive thoughts, it creates more positive action and more positive action creates a more positive well being.

Plus, you’re providing physiological benefits to your body with many functional foods. I tend to think that’s the ultimate. Health is multidimensional and food is just a part of it but food choices do affect other aspects of our health including sleep patterns, joy and pleasure (hey seratonin, hey!), connection with humans, and so much more.

So, what functional foods should I focus on?

Great question! So glad you asked 😉

I’ll give you the top 5 functional foods I tend to recommend and talk about with patients.

  1. Chia Seeds – Chia seeds are a great plant-based source of ALA Omega-3 fatty acids which help with inflammation and heart health. The high fiber content helps keep your energy levels stable and keeps you more satisfied. Plus, these tiny gems help you have regular digestion!
  2. Kombucha or Fresh Sauerkraut – Probiotic bombs – both of these foods contain millions of live organisms that help support your immune system and gut microbiome to help keep you GI tract happy.
  3. Turmeric – the darling in the anti-inflammation world! Even though you’ll see turmeric capsules, aim for the fresh root herb you can eat as is (peel/cut the skin off), add into smoothies, or cooking! Warning: it’s a highly pigmented herb and should be cut with a knife and on a surface that won’t stain.
  4. Nuts (all of them!) – Oh good lawrd y’all ….I could go on and on about the health benefits of nuts and if you’re still on the “too many calorie bandwagon” with nuts, let me tell you that you need fat AND the fat soluble vitamins/minerals nuts are high in. I once had a client where I suspected a zinc deficiency because she never ate nuts or meat because of the fear that nuts were too high in calories. Who is dictating how many calories you need in a day anyway? Some arbitrary values established far too long ago not taking into consideration this thing called LIFE and variance. Basically, nuts provide more benefit than you could ever imagine and I would be happy to help you fit them into your day.
  5. Ginger – jump on the happy digestion train! Ginger can also help on so many fronts: decreasing risk of heart disease, lowering cholesterol levels, decreasing inflammation, alleviating muscle soreness, aiding with nausea, improving brain function and decreasing risk of Alzheimer’s. Ginger is truly worthy of a superfood title!

And just to clarify, when I say you “should count” functional foods, what I’m really saying is just be mindful of increasing your whole food intake to help sustain energy levels and promote your overall health and well being.

However, extend yourself grace. You’re still doing an amazing job whether you drink kombucha everyday or never. Food does not have a moral value and you are not a better person for drinking kombucha (trust me, even a-holes drink kombucha). Also, if you don’t like the taste of something, you don’t consume it. You are in charge of your health and it’s important that in the pursuit of health we focus on happiness. If food does not bring you joy, maybe it’s time to find a new food.

What questions do you have for me that I can hopefully answer??


Why You Should Be Counting Functional Foods Not Calories

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