How to Embrace Functional Food

These superstar foods promote health and prevent disease.

The nutrients in food influence your mood and health in all sorts of ways you may not realize. Functional foods are a way of “not using a drug to do something; it’s using a nutrient,” says Lisa Ellis, a nutritional therapist and registered dietitian in White Plains. “Sometimes we need medication, but sometimes I think we can use nutrients.”

Functional foods have health benefits beyond normal nutrition (e.g., an abundance of antioxidants, like spinach or blueberries). Another way these foods increase their functionality is by adding new ingredients or more of what they already possess, often related to health promotion or disease prevention (e.g., omega-3-enriched eggs).

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This doesn’t mean you have to adopt an ascetic life of sad little salads and no cheese, burgers, or dessert. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it must be delicious and enjoyable. But it can also be good for you and reap extra benefits, in a purposeful, targeted way.

That way is not the same for everyone. It depends on your personal microbiome and genomics, Ellis says. Each person harbors different microbial communities, particularly in the gut, which play a larger role in overall health than once thought. Plus, our genetic makeups are unique.

Still, some basics apply to all of us. It’s no shock that the typical American diet — laden with sugar, sodium, and saturated fat — doesn’t make us feel well, physically or emotionally. Holistic and integrative medicine takes your diet into account much more than traditional Western medicine, targeting the causes rather than the symptoms.

“It’s about quality, whole foods, rich in color and diversity,” says Dr. Susan Blum, author, integrative-medicine physician and founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook. Call it a powerfood or a superfood, no matter what ingredient is trendy in the wellness food world at the moment, they’ve all got something in common: an intense amount of nutrients.

“You will recognize how food changes the way you feel. Food is medicine. It affects every cell in your body, and it helps you function your best and feel your best,” Blum explains. That’s why her center has pantry makeovers, cooking classes, and online health coaching. She co-created an offshoot to make healthy eating more convenient, called Organic Pharmer, an organic, plant-focused grab-and-go eatery with locations in Rye Brook and Scarsdale.

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“We have created something unique by adding functional ingredients to already healthy and delicious foods and beverages,” says Organic Pharmer Culinary Director Darleen Gross.


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