“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” (Hippocrates)
Functional Foods have positive effects on health and wellbeing, beyond basic nutrition. They are like superfoods that are extremely high in at least one particular vitamin or mineral. Therefore, they have a medicinal effect and the ability to replace supplements. Functional foods promote optimal health, while reducing disease risk. I prefer them to supplements, as they are more easily absorbed and utilised by the body, while being naturally abundant in nutrients.
I prescribe food as medicine, sometimes with natural supplements alongside. Natural supplements are derived from natural, whole foods. Our bodies recognise natural, whole foods. Whereas, our bodies don’t recognise synthetic materials, which may harm our health. Synthetic supplements are man-made isolated chemicals. It is disturbing what some of them are made out of e.g. synthetic B complex vitamins are by-products of coal tar.
These are some of my favourite functional foods…
- Fermented Foods vs. Probiotic Supplement
Dose: at least 1 fermented food daily.
- Camu Camu vs. Ascorbic Acid
This South American fruit is one of the world’s best sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C is water-soluble (not stored in the body), therefore, our bodies demand a regular supply. The benefits of vitamin C are so well known, it would take many pages to list them all.
Whole food sources (e.g. fruit and vegetables) of vitamin C are more readily absorbed and utilised by the body than synthetic ascorbic acid supplements. Choose natural vitamin C supplements derived from natural, whole fruit and vegetables. If you must take a synthetic vitamin C supplement, ensure that it has bioflavonoids to improve its absorption and utilisation.
Dose: add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of camu camu powder to water, juice or a smoothie daily.
- Brazil Nuts vs. Selenium Supplement
Brazil nuts are a delicious and convenient way to get your daily selenium. This is important for Kiwis because our soil is deficient in essential trace minerals, including selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant, which works in conjunction with vitamin E (abundant in nuts, seeds and oils) to reduce the risk of skin cancer and prevent sunburn by preventing the formation of free radicals. Selenium is required for healthy thyroid function, controlling our metabolic rate, energy levels and body temperature. Research shows that it may also reduce inflammation and cancer.
It’s ironic that NZ farm animals are supplemented with selenium to prevent disease, but humans give little thought to their selenium intake!
Dose: 2-3 Brazil nuts daily.
- Seaweed vs. Iodine Supplement
0.25g of kelp provides 590% of your daily iodine (another mineral lacking in NZ soils). Iodine is the most important mineral for the thyroid gland, which controls our metabolic rate, energy levels and body temperature. Kelp has the most iodine out of all seaweeds, so you only need a light sprinkle every day. It can be easily added to cooking and smoothies.
Dose: a sprinkle daily.
- Maca vs. Berocca
Berocca is often taken for energy, but you can improve your energy naturally with Maca and these tips. Also known as Peruvian Ginseng, Maca increases energy, stamina and performance. Click here to meet the other Ginsengs and learn about how to naturally enhance your energy.
Dose: add 1-3 teaspoons of Maca powder to water or a smoothie daily.
- Sprouted, Activated (in dehydrator or oven on low temperature) and Raw Foods vs. Enzyme Supplement
Sprouting/activating (beginning of sprouting process) raw grains, legumes, nuts and seeds greatly increases their enzyme potential. Additionally, it releases calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc from phytic acid. This process greatly increases nutrient bioavailability, by enabling us to absorb these important minerals. Phytase is an enzyme that neutralises phytic acid. It co-exists naturally in plants containing phytic acid. Soaking grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in an acid (e.g. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice) and a pinch of salt, kick-starts the activating/sprouting process. Plant foods can be cooked after they have been sprouted/activated. However, it is still better to sprout/activate before cooking, than not at all. The Weston A. Price Foundation has helpful information about phytic acid.
Examples of sprouted and activated foods on the market include Essene bread (sprouted wheat and rye – still contains gluten but gentler on digestion), sprouted buckwheat cereal, sprouted rice, sprouted legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, peas and adzuki beans), and activated nuts/seeds. Alternatively, sprouted/activated plant foods can be easily and economically prepared at home.
Raw foods contain more enzymes than cooked foods because enzymes are destroyed above 40˚C. Enzymes are required for chemical reactions that occur in digestion processes. Certain enzymes digest each macronutrient e.g. amylase digests carbohydrates, lipase digests fats and protease digests protein.
Dose: eat more sprouted and activated grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, than non-sprouted and non-activated. Aim to eat more raw than cooked plant foods.
- Cod Liver Oil vs. Fish Oil
Cod liver oil has Omega 3, vitamin A and vitamin D all in one natural source. Whereas, fish oil only has omega 3. Don’t get me wrong, fish oil is still amazing, but cod liver oil gives you more bang for your buck.
We are supposed to only eat food that our grandmothers would recognise, right? Well our grandmothers would approve of this one!
Dose: 1-2 teaspoons of cod liver oil with added vitamin D daily.
- Organ Meat (especially liver!) vs. Multi Vitamin
Organ meats are the superfoods of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, the traditional nose to tail philosophy of eating animals has been lost through generations. Nowadays, we tend to only eat muscle meat, whereas, some traditional cultures only ate organs because they were well aware of the benefits. The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, folic acid and minerals like iron and copper. Therefore, we are getting a dose of these nutrients when we eat liver.
Organic meat and organs are always preferable. Especially because the liver is the detoxing organ, therefore, stores toxins.
Tip: mix organ meat into mince, diced or stir fried meat to hide the flavour if you aren’t keen on it. This is also a great way to sneak it into kids! Or make traditional pate.
Dose: eat organ meat 1-2 times weekly.
Consult with me, to figure out if any of the supplements you take can be switched to functional foods.