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What Is Functional Food?

06 Nov 2019

Tomatoes, spicy peppers, garlic cloves, and spinach leaves on top of a dark brown table

You may have heard the term “functional nutrition,” and thought it was just another buzzword. After all, when it comes to the intersection of diet and health, there are so many buzzwords out there, it’s easy to get confused. So, in order to get a handle on this term and whether or not it is just a buzzword, let’s break the whole thing down.

The term begins with the word “functional,” so we’ll tackle that first. Considering what this term means – having a special activity or purpose, designed to be practical and useful – tells us a lot about this approach to food and eating. This approach focuses on making nutritional choices based on your health and overall lifestyle. Functional nutrition looks at the big picture of health and takes a systematic approach to diet and nutrition.

Bottom line, this approach is about discovering the best way for each individual to eat. Beyond that, functional nutrition revolves around using food to improve everyone’s potential for health.

The Basics of Functional Nutrition

For centuries, humans have depended on the same type of food supply to provide health, energy, and connection to our environment. However, over the last 60 to 70 years, changes in our food supply have contributed to the growing occurrence of chronic diet-related diseases. Functional nutrition is a response to these changes.

Emerging science indicates that the food we eat has a huge influence on our health. It gives us more than just the calories we eat to give our bodies energy. Food is also made up of many diverse components, each with an essential role in helping our bodies function properly. A poor-quality diet can actually increase the chances of disease, while a high-quality diet can help reverse disease and sustain health. As Hippocrates’ famous quote goes, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

But before we go too much further, it is important to understand the difference between diet and lifestyle. Diet, the way we’ve come to think of it, generally means not eating certain foods, and eating more of others. A lifestyle, on the other hand, is about making the right choice about the food we eat and prioritizing nutritionally dense vegetables, whole foods, and healthy fats.

How Food Can Affect Health

What we eat consists of three basic elements:

  • Macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that are the components of all food
  • Micronutrients – vitamins and minerals
  • Phytonutrients – plant-based food that has a positive effect on our health

Processed food often involves changes in the food supply that get in the way of our bodies, putting those basic elements to use. For example, practices such as adding sugar and other sweeteners, hydrogenating oils, over-processing grains, adding agricultural chemicals, or adding trans fats to make food have a longer shelf life, can affect our health if it becomes a big part of our diet.

Food is more than just calories, it also gives our bodies important information. It tells our bodies how to function by signaling when and how each cell should act in every situation. So, by eating the best food we can, we are giving our bodies the best information they need to function optimally.

Food Is More Than Information and Energy

Food represents a connection to family, home, and community. Families preparing food and sitting down to eat together, enjoying ceremonies and celebrations is one of the things that holds not just families, but societies, together. In addition, the declining rate of the shared family dinner, with a meal made from scratch, has been a part of the transformation that is leading to the chronic disease cycle.

How Does Functional Nutrition Work?

The functional nutrition approach emphasizes healthful eating based on you: your environment, lifestyle, and health concerns. It gives you effective strategies and tactics for improving your health. These tactics include weekly shopping lists, menus, recipes, and recommendations about food storage methods and cooking. In addition, it covers steps on how to achieve mindful eating.

In general, the approach doesn’t involve major restrictions on your eating, calorie counting, or avoiding delicious, satisfying food. Scientifically sound, if adhered to regularly this approach can have a positive impact on your health. In fact, the diet can be covered with a few basic concepts: fresh, colorful food with texture. Mostly whole food, not too much, based on plants.

A balanced diet should give you the nutrients and calories you need to stay healthy. Not to worry for those of you who like meat or have a sweet tooth, you can have those things, just be mindful about how much of them you include in your overall diet. Balance over time is the goal, so some meat on occasion or a delicious, gluten friendly cookie is fine.

Focusing on Functional Nutrition Supports Whole Health

Making healthy choices about your food is a great way to help care for yourself. Food and drink give your body the fuel it needs to stay healthy, work properly, and fight diseases. The right food not only gives your body the energy it needs to function but helps it function at peak capacity. Most of us have lost touch with the connection between how our food choices affect the way we feel emotionally and physically.

Keep in mind that diet is one factor in an overall lifestyle that can have an effect on your health, but isn’t the only factor. Functional nutrition isn’t a magic bullet or a universal cure. However, keeping in mind how the food you eat affects your body can help you give it an edge against chronic disease.

At its core, functional nutrition is a philosophy that promotes the use of food as medicine to prevent and alleviate diet and lifestyle-related diseases. At Bolay, we take functional nutrition as seriously as we do flavor. We don’t think it has to be one or the other, they can both exist peacefully in the same bol.


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