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The Ultimate Guide to Functional Foods: What They Are and How They Can Benefit You

Updated: Mar 20

By Erica F Perusse, B.S. Dietetics, Health and Nutrition

Functional foods - you have heard the term, but what does that mean? What is so great about them? Are these foods something you should eat regularly?

The term "functional food" generally means a food or food ingredient that provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition of macronutrients and micronutrients. It is claimed that specific foods give simple nutrition and physiological benefits through biologically active components. For example, they are said to reduce the risk of diseases but are not intended for disease treatment. Most foods are considered functional foods, but keep in mind that the FDA does not provide a specific definition but is still regulated by them. It is a claim you see on foods or drugs in stores.

Here is what you need to know about functional foods, the different categories, and their biological claims.

Conventional foods (foods that do not have anything added to them)

  • Whole fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, proteins, and dairy

    • Grains : rice, wheat, quinoa, and oats

    • Proteins : fish, poultry, beef, soy, beans, and nuts

    • Dairy : yogurt, cheese, kefir, and milk

Modified foods (foods that have something added through fortification, enrichment, etc.)

  • Calcium fortified orange juice, fermented foods, calcium and vitamin D-fortified milk, and omega-3 fatty acid enriched eggs

Food Ingredients (synthesized or isolated food ingredients)

  • Indigestible carbohydrates (oligosaccharides and resistant starch) that provide prebiotic effects

Still feel like this term is clear as mud? Have you heard the term "eat the rainbow"? Basically, it is about eating all the colors--don't worry about the term! Here is a chart of foods, their biological ingredients, and their potential health benefits.

When fitting functional foods into your diet, we want to point out one thing - eat the foods you like and simply add to them.

The NWE Method to build your plate is a focus on PCC. There is no such thing as a "miracle food" or "superfood" to cure any one disease. Yes, all foods fit! It is all about how you can incorporate a variety of food types and colors on your plate to ensure you are fueling your body with adequate nutrition. Check the “Recipes” tab for some tasty recipes that are full of color and nutrition!

Try the oatmeal prep above to boost your protein first thing in the morning! By swapping out regular instant oatmeal prepared with water for a high protein instant oatmeal prepared with milk, you are adding 8 additional grams of protein and 6 more grams of fiber. This does not include adding anything to the oatmeal either! Yogurt is another wonderful example to add to your day. Chobani has a drinkable yogurt with 10 grams of protein; just by switching to the Chobani Complete (same brand!), you get an additional 10 grams of protein (yes, 20 grams of protein from one yogurt drink).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) recommends that adults eat 22-34 grams of fiber daily (this will range depending on your gender and age). When trying to figure out how to build your meal, side, or snack - think about the foods you already enjoy and ADD to them. Here are a few NWE staff and client favorites!

Don’t overthink it (I know that is harder said than done!) - - we do not aim for perfection!

At NWE, we aim to give you the tools, resources, and support. Have a food term you would like explained, email us at Want to start building your healthy relationship, send us a chat or fill out the application.


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