From better sleep, to firmer skin and natural energy boosts, people are increasingly interested in foods that serve a specific purpose – better known as functional foods. Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on your health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods believe that these food items promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease.
Is asparagus the key to a good night’s sleep? Can sauerkraut really improve your memory? Does wheatgrass give you more energy than coffee? Why is it called ‘moon milk’? These are a few of the ‘food questions’ we’re asking in 2019.
In a new report from Israel-based food trend analytics startup Tastewise, functional foods are defined as foods that serve a specific function. These foods are gaining widespread popularity and this trend is expected to grow significantly in the years to come. According to the report, one out of every three conversations about food centers around its functionality. The report stated that consumers are interested in food that will benefit them, and there has been a spike in questions like: will it improve my gut health? Will it give me healthier skin? Will it increase my focus?
So what are the hottest functional foods right now? That depends on what aspects of your health are most important to you:
Functional foods are known to play a key role in the prevention of insomnia, which is a common sleep disorder. Poor sleep can have several negative effects, as it makes you feel lousy all day long. Several studies have demonstrated that major insomnia risk factors are due to the consumption of less functional foods in one’s diet. There are higher functional components in functional foods that promote sleep; studies have proved there is a clear relationship between food and sleep. Some food and drinks contain compounds that help control your sleep cycle, and can help a person both fall asleep and stay awake.
- Asparagus: Contains folate, a vitamin linked to restful sleep.
- Moon milk: A warm milk concoction that’s often sipped before bed. Recipes may vary; but ingredients usually include ginger, cardamon and Ashwagandha powder. Milk contains the sleep-inducing amino acid called tryptophan. A glass of milk before bedtime can be a comforting way to unwind.
- Golden milk: A turmeric-based drink that has a powerhouse of health benefits. It contains cinnamon, ginger and a sweetener of your choice. Golden milk is ideal before bedtime given that it promotes relaxation and lowers symptoms of anxiety.
Functional foods can be defined as dietary items that aside from providing nutrients, are the primary source of energy. In the daily demands of life, power naps or long breaks aren’t always in the cards. You need an energy boost that lasts all day, but not from artificial sources like energy drinks. Instead, try to rely on natural remedies:
- Wheatgrass: Nutrient-rich sprouted leaves thought to promote energy and focus. Wheatgrass is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. Wheatgrass is prepared from the freshly sprouted leaves of the common wheat plant. Wheatgrass boosts energy by increasing your red blood cell count. The abundance of chlorophyll in wheatgrass helps deliver more oxygen to the blood and strengthens the immune system. Take a shot of wheatgrass daily to help eliminate general fatigue and tiredness.
- Sesame: This is a primary ingredient in many energy bars. Sesame seeds are a good source of energy due to their high-fat content. These tiny seeds are packed with potent amino acids like tryptophan and fat-burning polyphenols. Sesame seeds contain a high amount of protein that get broken down into usable proteins for our body, which increases energy levels and boosts metabolic function.
- Green tea: Benefits abound, but energy is chief among them. Green tea has caffeine, which is the active ingredient in energy drinks and coffee. Green tea can provide you with a boost of energy, which has lasting effects.
If you’re coping with a chronic illness, then you need to be looking for ingredients that protect you against inflammation. Functional foods have beneficial effects on your body, and some of them exhibit strong anti-inflammatory effects. Adding these specific functional foods to your diet can reduce flare-ups and minimize symptoms:
- Pumpkin: A fall staple, the gourd is being touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Pumpkin has the ability to fight inflammation given the high amount of antioxidants it contains. B-carotene, polysaccharides, lutein, phytosterols, unsaturated fatty acids, and peptides are compounds present in pumpkin that make it a powerful food when it comes to eradicating inflammation at the source.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are truly an exceptionally nutritious nut. They contain higher antioxidant activity and more omega-3 fats than any other common nuts. The polyphenols in walnuts can help fight inflammation. ALA, magnesium and omega-3 fats and the amino acid arginine in walnuts may also decrease inflammation.
- Pomegranates: Another fall favorite, known to help alleviate pain and fight against cartilage degradation. Pomegranates have potent anti-inflammatory properties which can reduce inflammatory activity in the digestive tract, as well as in breast cancer and colon cancer cells. If you’re interested in reducing inflammation in your body, pomegranate can be an excellent addition to your diet.
4. Brain Health
People are increasingly embracing brain-boosting ingredients, and discovering the effects they have on overall health, from memory to organ function to sleep patterns. A balanced diet that includes brain-boosting foods may help to keep your memory, concentration and focus as sharp as possible.
- Sweet potatoes: The superfood of the tuber family, sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which has been linked to better brain function. Animal studies have shown that sweet potatoes can improve brain health by reducing inflammation and preventing mental decline.
- Dates: Rich in flavonoids, a group of antioxidants linked to all sorts of benefits, including brain function and health. Dates have an excellent nutrient profile and may be helpful in lowering inflammation and preventing plaques from forming in your brain.
- Sauerkraut: Is a popular German condiment and is one of several fermented foods thought to support memory and cognition. It promotes healthy gut flora and may aid the absorption of mood-regulating minerals from your diet. The probiotics in sauerkraut can help in turning your mood around when you feel stressed. Regular consumption of this probiotic-rich food can keep your gut healthy, which is directly linked to improved brain health.
5. Skin Care
People are getting their natural fruits, vegetables and proteins from both the foods they eat and the products they apply to their skin. This improves your body’s largest organ from the inside out and helps it grow faster. In the skincare industry, natural and plant-based products are all the rage:
- Collagen: Is a naturally occurring and abundant protein present in your body’s organs and tissues. Collagen’s main function is to sustain the skin and other tissues. It provides integrity, firmness and elasticity to structures. People are consuming it as a supplement as collagen works to reverse skin aging.
- Kiwi: This fruit contains large amounts of vitamin C, which helps your body produce collagen. The ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in kiwis is a natural astringent which helps to minimize pores and keep your skin looking great.
- Goji berries: Polysaccharides are known to have antioxidant properties, and their presence in goji berries helps increase skin hydration. Goji berries also help to tighten and firm the surface of the skin, thereby promoting the appearance of a radiant, youthful glow.
If you want to try functional foods, choose wisely. And keep in mind that while functional foods may help promote wellness, they certainly can’t make up for poor eating habits.