If you look at the diet of any creature on the planet, you'll notice one big commonality: every bite of consumed food has a purpose. Animals don't eat because they're having a craving. Rather, they seek out very specific food sources that will help them gain energy, reproduce and better respond to their environment. Consider bears, for example, which in addition to a plant-rich diet, also seek out easy proteins like insects and fish to help them store protein and fat for the long winter. You may know dogs to be primarily carnivorous (or at least high-protein omnivores), but canines also enjoy chewing on grass or raw vegetables on occasion to help enhance their digestion. Even gorillas will occasionally consume soil – yup, just some raw dirt! – to add additional minerals to their normal sugary fruit- (albeit vitamin- and fiber-rich) based meals. The cardinal rule of a natural animal diet is eating on a need-to-nourish basis.
The Non-Functional Exception
The one exception to this purpose-driven diet is…you guessed it…humans. Beyond just hunger, we eat for many different reasons, ranging from nostalgia to boredom. And nobody knows our weaknesses better than food manufacturers, who have created all kinds of food products that tap into our deepest emotional cues. Crunchy corn puffs colored with red spicy “fire” powder anyone? Or creamy ice cream studded with flecks of cookie dough? How about pickle-flavored popcorn? Are you hungry yet? Our diverse cravings are tested every time we walk into a grocery store. With such an abundance of tempting options, it's no surprise that many of us often fall victim to eating foods that are super low on the nutrient density scale – in other words – foods that are high in calories, but don't offer much in the realm of actual nutrition or benefits.
How Functional Foods Work
Functional foods are just the opposite. These aren't just foods that allow us to survive from a caloric standpoint, they're foods that can help us truly flourish. Saturated with nutritional perks, functional foods bring us back to our intuitive animal state as either natural foods or recipes (or products) that can help us respond to our environment – or at least the demands of our lifestyle – much more easily. Of course, the most obvious answer of functional foods in their raw state is any kind of superfood. Loaded with healing antioxidants, important vitamins, essential minerals, adaptogenic qualities and numerous other nutrients, superfoods are the “quick fixes” of the dietary world, and consuming them can help us meet our nutritional needs quickly and efficiently. Not all functional foods are superfoods, but all superfoods are functional foods.
Other types of functional foods are a little more designed. These may be products that are crafted for one or more specific wellness purposes, such as cognitive function or gut health. What's especially cool from a clean-eating standpoint is that if you're watching closely, you'll likely find that many of the most popular functional food products are functional actually because of the superfoods included in the ingredients!
If you're thinking that some functional foods might be right up your alley to complement a busy lifestyle (that let's face it, may not always include picture-perfect nutrition), a great place to start is by exploring some of the new blended products at Navitas Organics. I've been loving the Essential Superfood Blends (both Cacao & Greens and Vanilla & Greens), which offer a gamut of balanced nutrition, ranging from protein to probiotics. Every ingredient within them serves a healthy purpose, making these blends the poster children for what functional food is all about. They are delicious in smoothies and a wonderful addition to baked goods. For a more specific purpose, you can also try one of the new Daily Superfood Boosts, each of which features an alchemy of superfoods that are more benefit-specific, such as Beauty, Wellness, Focus and Detox and Immunity. These boosts are great for smoothies, but can also be added to homemade sweets and treats to make even your guiltiest endeavors a little more, well, functional.
So, the next time you sit down for a meal, take a moment to be conscious of what you're really offering your body. If your answer comes up short, it may be time to incorporate some additional help from functional foods and the endless benefits they have to offer.