10 Functional foods you should be eating right now

Are you aiming to boost your health through smarter food choices? Let’s talk about functional foods, a key part of any nutritious diet that does more than just satisfy your hunger.

These foods are power-packed with essential nutrients that help improve your health, from boosting your brain function to strengthening your immune system.

From the antioxidants in blueberries to the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, each food item has its own health benefits. Here are simple tips on incorporating them into your diet and maximizing their nutritional value.

Whether you want to revitalize your eating habits or find new ingredients to add to your kitchen, this list will help you make informed choices.

What are examples of functional foods?

Functional foods offer more than basic nutrition; they provide additional benefits that can help boost your health and well-being [1]. 

Examples of functional foods include oats, which can help lower cholesterol levels, and garlic, known for its immune-boosting properties. These foods not only nourish the body but also help prevent diseases and improve overall health.

Incorporating these foods into your diet can be a proactive approach to maintaining and enhancing your health.

If you’re looking to enhance your diet, here are ten functional foods you should consider incorporating into your meals:

1. Almonds

Almonds are an excellent way to add healthy fats, fiber, protein, and essential elements like potassium, magnesium, and vitamin E to any diet. since of these nutrients [2], almonds are excellent for heart health since they can lower cholesterol and improve vascular health.

The following table outlines the key characteristics of almonds, including their nutritional content, health benefits, and various ways they can be incorporated into daily meals.

Nutritional contentHigh in vitamin E, magnesium, and healthy monounsaturated fats.
CaloriesApproximately 160 calories per ounce (about 23 almonds).
Health benefitsReduces cholesterol levels
Supports heart health
Enhances skin health
Serving ideasAs a snack, either raw or roasted
Chopped in salads or yogurt
Used in baking or as almond butter on bread
Dietary tipsIdeal for adding crunch and nutrition to meals; suitable for those managing weight due to their satiating effect.

Whether you’re looking to improve your dietary habits or just want a tasty, healthful snack, almonds are a smart choice.

2. Blueberries

Superfood blueberries are rich in nutrients and power food. These little berries are uniquely blue and packed with potent antioxidants called anthocyanins, which also help reduce inflammation.

Nutritional contentHigh in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and antioxidants.
CaloriesApproximately 84 calories per cup (148 grams).
Health benefitsBoosts brain function and memory
Reduces DNA damage, which may help protect against aging and cancer
Lowers blood pressure and promotes heart health
Serving ideasFresh in salads or yogurts
Blended into smoothies or used in homemade jams
Baked into muffins, pies, or pancakes
Dietary tipsBlueberries are best enjoyed fresh for maximum nutrient retention but can also be frozen without significant nutrient loss. Ideal for snacking or enhancing the nutritional profile of various dishes.

Blueberries also enhance brain function and can improve memory and cognitive performance with regular consumption. They’re low in calories but high in fiber, vitamins C and K, and manganese. 

blueberries

3. Turmeric

The bright yellow color and potent health benefits of turmeric are well-known. Regular consumption of turmeric can help reduce inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases. It also supports immune function and can alleviate pain naturally. 

Nutritional contentRich in curcumin, iron, potassium, vitamin B6, and dietary fiber.
CaloriesAbout 29 calories per tablespoon of ground turmeric.
Health benefitsAnti-inflammatory properties
Antioxidant effects that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases
Supports brain function and immune health
Serving ideasAdded to curries and soups for color and flavor
Blended into smoothies or juiced with other fruits and vegetables
Used in marinades for meats and vegetables
Dietary tipsIncorporate a pinch of black pepper with turmeric to enhance the absorption of curcumin. Use in moderation to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.

To reap the advantages, incorporate a small amount of turmeric into your meals—such as smoothies, soups, or curries. You can also drink turmeric tea for a quick daily energy boost. A small amount of this adaptable spice can significantly improve your general well-being.

4. Salmon

Known for its rich omega-3 fatty acid content—which is essential for heart health maintenance and inflammation reduction—salmon is a nutritional powerhouse.

This flavorful fish also provides a great source of protein, vitamins B12 and D, and selenium, supporting overall health, from muscle repair to immune function [3]. 

Nutritional contentRich in omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, vitamins D and B12, and selenium.
CaloriesApproximately 180-200 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked salmon.
Health benefitsPromotes heart health by lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels
Supports brain function and mental health
Reduces inflammation and supports joint health
Serving ideasGrilled or baked with herbs and a squeeze of lemon
Added to salads, pasta dishes, or made into salmon patties
Used as a topping on bagels with cream cheese
Dietary tipsTo maximize its health benefits, include salmon in your diet 1-2 times per week. Avoid overcooking to preserve nutrients and texture.

Regularly eating salmon can improve brain function and help manage weight, thanks to its lean protein and healthy fat content. It’s a versatile choice that works well in various dishes.

5. Kale

One of the leafy greens that is highest in nutrients is kale. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals that support everything from bone health to immune function. The high fiber content of kale helps improve digestion and maintain blood sugar levels. 

Nutritional contentRich in vitamins A, K, C, and minerals like manganese and iron. High in antioxidants and phytonutrients.
CaloriesApproximately 33 calories per cup (chopped, raw).
Health benefitsPromotes eye health
Enhances bone health due to high vitamin K content
Supports immune function with its high vitamin C content
Serving ideasRaw in salads
Sautéed with garlic and olive oil
Dietary tipsTo maximize nutrient absorption, pair it with a source of healthy fats such as olive oil or nuts.

Additionally, its antioxidants can help counteract inflammation and oxidative stress, promoting overall health and longevity. Kale is versatile in cooking and a robust addition to a health-conscious diet.

6. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, which helps control blood sugar levels, making them a perfect choice for diabetics and supporting their immune system and eye health.

Nutritional contentRich in fiber, vitamins A and C, manganese, and potassium
CaloriesApproximately 112 calories per medium sweet potato (baked).
Health benefitsSupports vision health
Boosts immune function
Aids in blood sugar regulation
Serving ideasBaked as a whole or mashed
Sliced into fries or chips
Cubed in stews or salads
Dietary tipsIdeal for a balanced diet, especially for those needing low GI options.

Their versatility in the kitchen is unmatched. Sweet potatoes also serve as a natural sweetener for smoothies and baked goods, enhancing flavor while boosting nutritional value.

7. Kefir

Similar to a more liquid version of yogurt, kefir is a tangy milk beverage that has been cultivated and fermented. It’s packed with probiotics, which benefit digestive health and boost the immune system.

Kefir supports bone health and helps manage lactose intolerance due to the fermentation process that breaks down lactose. 

Nutritional contentRich in protein, calcium, and B vitamins, particularly B12. Also, a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D. Contains various bioactive compounds, including organic acids and peptides.
CaloriesApproximately 100 calories per cup (about 240 ml).
Health benefitsPromotes digestive health and may alleviate symptoms of IBS
Supports immune function
Contributes to bone health and may help prevent osteoporosis
Serving ideasDrunk plain or flavored as a beverage
Mixed into smoothies or shakes
Used as a base for salad dressings or as a sour cream substitute
Dietary tipsSuitable for people who are lactose intolerant due to the fermentation process that breaks down lactose.

You can drink kefir, add it to smoothies for a probiotic boost [4], or use it in salad dressings and soups for a creamy texture. Its versatility and health benefits make kefir a great addition to your diet for overall well-being.

8. Chia seeds

Packed with nutrients, chia seeds are small yet powerful, offering significant health advantages. These small seeds help improve cardiovascular health, enhance bone density, and promote digestive well-being. 

Nutritional contentHigh in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Contains calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
CaloriesApproximately 137 calories per ounce (about 2 tablespoons).
Health benefitsEnhances cardiovascular health
Aids in digestion and promotes satiety, which helps in weight management
Supports bone health due to high calcium content
Serving ideasSprinkle on yogurt or cereal
Mix into smoothies or use in homemade energy bars
Soak to form a gel-like substance for puddings or as an egg substitute in vegan baking
Dietary tipsStart with a small amount and increase gradually to avoid digestive upset. Ensure adequate hydration when consuming chia seeds.

Chia seeds absorb water and expand, which can help you feel full longer, aiding in weight management. Their mild flavor makes them versatile for both sweet and savory dishes, allowing you to boost nutrition effortlessly.

chia seeds

9. Quinoa

Often hailed as a superfood, quinoa is a gluten-free grain that is incredibly nutritious. It’s one of the few plant foods that has all nine essential amino acids, which is uncommon for plant-based diets and makes it a complete protein source. 

Nutritional contentHigh in protein, fiber, vitamins (B1, B2, B6), magnesium, and iron
CaloriesApproximately 222 calories per cooked cup (185 grams)
Health benefitsSupports metabolic health
Aids in maintaining blood sugar levels
Promotes digestive health
Serving ideasAs a base for salads or bowls
Mixed into soups or stews
Used as a substitute for rice or pasta
Dietary tipsSuitable for vegans and vegetarians. Ideal for meal prepping due to its versatility and ease of cooking.

Quinoa is known for its beneficial effects on metabolic health, including managing blood sugar levels. Because of its fluffy texture and nutty flavor, quinoa is a favorite among health-conscious diners.

10. Avocado

Avocados are celebrated not only for their rich, creamy texture but also for their impressive nutritional profile. They are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels while raising the good ones. 

Nutritional contentRich in monounsaturated fats, fiber, potassium, and vitamins E, C, and K.
CaloriesApproximately 240 calories per medium-sized avocado.
Health benefitsSupports heart health by improving cholesterol levels
Aids in digestion due to high fiber content
Enhances skin and eye health with vitamins E and C
Serving ideasSliced on toast or blended into smoothies
As guacamole in tacos or as a dip
Added to salads for a creamy texture
Dietary tipsIncorporate in moderation due to high calorie content; perfect for adding healthy fats to a balanced diet.

These nutrients aid in everything from digestion and metabolic health to maintaining proper nerve and cellular function [5]. Avocados are a versatile and delicious way to enhance your diet.

In closing

The ten foods we’ve highlighted offer a range of benefits, from improving heart health and boosting immune function to enhancing digestion and managing weight.

Whether you snack on almonds, blend blueberries into a smoothie, or toss kale into your salads, each choice contributes positively to your overall well-being.

The key to benefiting from functional foods is consistency and variety. Make them a staple of your diet to harness their nutritional power fully.

Consider consulting with a healthcare provider or nutritionist if you have specific health concerns or dietary needs. They can help tailor your diet to maximize the health benefits of these foods based on your health profile.

FAQs

Can functional foods help with weight management?

Yes, many functional foods are high in fiber and protein, which can help you feel fuller longer and manage your weight effectively. They also maintain energy levels and help regulate blood sugar.

Are there functional foods that can improve heart health?

Absolutely, foods like salmon and almonds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats, which can improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation.

How can I incorporate more functional foods into my diet?

Start by adding them to meals you already enjoy, like mixing berries into your breakfast cereal or swapping regular rice with quinoa. Experiment with different recipes to find what you enjoy.

Do functional foods have any side effects?

While functional foods are generally safe for most people, some might cause allergic reactions or interact with certain medications. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider if you have concerns.

[1] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/functional-foods
[2] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-proven-benefits-of-almonds
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/salmon-nutrition-and-health-benefits
[4] https://www.webmd.com/diet/kefir-good-for-you
[5] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/avocado-nutrition

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.