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September 9, 2019

What Are Functional Foods, Anyways?

Here’s a sneak peek of this month’s trend: it’s all about functional foods. The New Wholesome ladders up to the broader trend, but the interest lies in the benefits that may require a more technical term. Why? Because of the positive effects that the items have on our health, often beyond basic nutritional benefits. “Functional” cuts straight to the chase and gets to the heart of the appeal. Hemp, collagen, pea protein, acai, and turmeric are a few ingredients that come to mind, but there are so many more. So, before we release all the ideas and inspiration of the trend in action, we thought we’d take a minute to share the what’s what of the trend itself.

If you’re searching for a legal definition, it may be hard to find. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates foods labeled as functional, it does not provide a legal definition of the term, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The term originates in the early ‘80s when the Japanese Academic Society created a class of "functional foods" with a list of conventional and modified foods that included additional health benefits. Alas, functional foods, and the study of their effects, were born.


Check out the label on many foods and you’ll see the nomenclature in action. From claims to reduce cholesterol to the prevention of heart disease, many foods and beverages are offering a functional benefit to allure consumers to pick them up. Beyond the grocery shelf, when certain foods are highlighted correctly, they can be a benefit to a menu, too. It’s all about positioning—calling out the benefit beyond the basics is a great place to start.

Grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts offer choices to try while cold-water fish is a natural substitute for those looking for the healthier alternative. Foods in each of these categories are a nutrient-dense choice and offer benefits that extend beyond the meal. For instance, salmon has high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and may help lower risk of heart disease. Nuts help promote heart health and are good sources of magnesium. Whole grains, including barley and oatmeal, are high in dietary fiber and may help lower cholesterol and control sugar. Beans, another favorite functional food, offers dietary fiber, protein, potassium, and folate. Lastly, berries are a perfect food to promote and add to the plate. Low in calories, good for fighting inflammation, and loaded with antioxidants, berries are the kind of superfood that can be enjoyed all day.

Grilled Chinook Salmon is a delicious way to feature nutrient-rich salmon and showcase the benefits to your guests. Hearty Chicken Soup with Ancient Grains brings the advantage of whole grains for a delicious and hearty meal. Grilled Fruit Harissa Power Food Slaw is a simple and healthy alternative to fried sides with the power of harissa and fruit in one bowl. Or treat your vegetarian guests with a Sweet N’ Spicy Korean Jackfruit Tostada that offers the bold flavors of Mexico with the added benefit of Jackfruit. Win, win, all around.

The list of functional foods is long and seems to gain new ingredients and highlights every year, but generally, sticking to broad categories will make planning easy. For more ideas, we have hundreds available in our recipe library. Plus, we’re always scrolling about on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn, too, trying to keep up with all the inspiration in our feeds. We’ll be sure to share. Until then, cheers to the new wholesome!

Bo Chhay
Manager, Insight & Communication
Custom Culinary, Inc.