The Top 13 Naturally Functional Foods to Eat in 2018 for Whole Wellness

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2018 Best Functional Foods Organic Authority

Functional foods have been on our radars ever since research showed that some of our favorite summer berries were rich in antioxidants to keep us healthy and happy. But as functional foods gain in popularity, so too does the research showing which foods are truly life-changing.

This year, we're opting for only the best in functional foods: here are 13 we're super excited about in 2018.

1. Veggie-Rich 'Souping'

You've been mixing up smoothies and green juices for a while: after all, it’s much easier to ingest all those vitamins and minerals when they're in a portable, drinkable form. But 2018 may well be the year that soups take center stage when it comes to sipping your nutrition.

Soups by their very nature focus more on veggies than sugar-rich fruit, and seeing as we're conditioned to see soup as a meal, it's easier to keep from over-indulging (as is so common with sweeter juices and smoothies. Raw and barely heated soups keep all of those nutrients in tact for an even healthier experience.

How to Start

Try swapping out one of your daily healthy snacks with a small thermos of homemade soup. If you need some inspiration, best-selling author and nutrition authority Cherie Calbom, M.S. released “Souping is the New Juicing” at the end of last year, with a veritable plethora of health-focused, plant-based soup recipes to choose from.

2. Pre-(and Post-) Workout Beets

Oh how far the humble beet has come. If you grew up eating too-sweet pickled beets out of a jar, you’re not alone, but today, beets are popping up all over: whether they're roasted to concentrate all of their natural earthy sweetness or juiced raw, these veggies have come into their own (and not just for their flavor!)

A recent study in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology confirmed that beet juice, as a nitrate-rich food, is key for athletes: drinking beet juice before hitting the gym was found to widen the blood vessels for greater blood flow throughout the body and a more effective workout, and a post-gym juice decreases muscle soreness and help you recover even faster.

How to Start

Use a home juicer to juice raw beets, or purchase raw beet juice from your favorite juice shop. Raw beets can also be made into a tasty berry-beet smoothie or spiralized for a delicious, vibrant salad.

3. Full-Fat Dairy

In 2017, everyone was talking about research that finally proved, once and for all, that butter isn't as bad as we previously thought: from an oft-cited article in Time Magazine to Organic Valley’s tongue-in-cheek announcement that the war on butter is finally over, full-fat dairy is definitely in.

This year, choose grass-fed full-fat dairy for its great omega fatty acid balance and richness in essential vitamins and minerals, and include fermented dairy, such as kefir, in your diet for better gut health.

How to Start

Swap out all of your low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt for full-fat versions, and use them in healthy recipes like baked falafel with yogurt sauce or spinach and mushroom lasagna.

4. Dates and Date Syrup

The benefits of antioxidants for health have been touted high and low, but some of the best sources of these compounds are only seasonal in the summertime. If you don’t have unlimited stocks of frozen blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries to enjoy year-round, dates are another great option for an antioxidant boost.

Deglet dates contain nearly 4,000 moles of antioxidants per 100 grams, as compared to 4900 in blueberries (medjools contain a bit less). Dates also boast 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance of potassium and 18 percent of your copper. Best of all, dates are low on the glycemic index, making both dates and date syrup great options to add sweetness to foods without relying on artificial or processed sugars.

How to Start

Swap organic date syrup for sugar in your sweet recipes, and nibble on whole dates as a sweet snack. For a treat, blend them up with hazelnuts and cinnamon for a vegan milk recipe that will make you forget that artificially-flavored chocolate milk of your youth.

5. Seaweed Snacks

Seaweed isn’t just for sushi anymore: nori snacks, loaded with B vitamins, are much more accessible these days, and Andrea Nordby, head chef of Purple Carrot, the plant-based meal kit company, notes that nori’s health benefits make it a great everyday snack and the perfect way to get your daily dose of iodine.

How to Start

Seaweed snack brands abound, from Trader Joe's to gimMe. You can also make your own seaweed snacks at home.

6. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

If you haven’t added apple cider vinegar to your daily routine yet, the time is now. The benefits of raw apple cider vinegar include antimicrobial properties, improved insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes, anti-cancer benefits, weight loss aid, and more. Just be sure to choose a raw, organic apple cider vinegar to reap the most benefits from this functional food.

How to Start

Drink apple cider vinegar plain or diluted in water, or add it to your favorite vinaigrette recipe in place of other vinegars.

7. Bitter Melon

Bitter melon has been used for centuries in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines to lower blood sugar, soothe digestive troubles, and prevent infection, so it's no surprise that it's becoming more and more popular in the West.

Bitter melon can be a bit of an acquired taste, but many pros note that some of its natural astringency can be offset by adding lemon or ginger juice to it before cooking or juicing.

How to Start

Bitter melon supplements are available over the counter, but you can also cook bitter melon as a vegetable (here are just a few recipe ideas) or add it to your favorite juice recipe to reap the benefits.

8. Specialty Honey

Honey doesn’t come in a bear bottle anymore, at least not for those in the know.

Raw honey is touted by lovers of functional foods for its natural antimicrobial properties, and within this category, there are a few specialty honeys that get especially high praise.

Manuka honey from New Zealand and Neem honey from India are monofloral honeys that have been shown to have even more impressive antibacterial and antifungal properties than other raw honeys, so much so that these honeys are perceived by some as being more medicine than food.

How to Start

Drizzle on your favorite toast, add to juice or a smoothie, or mix into your favorite full-fat plain yogurt.

9. Homemade Bone Broth

Producers of natural grass-fed beef have noticed a striking increase in demand for bones of late, as the bone broth trend continues to grow in popularity. It’s no surprise: bone broth isn’t just delicious, it’s also rich in healing compounds like collagen, which has been found to improve hair, skin, joints, nails, and gut, and boost your metabolism and cardiovascular health.

How to Start

Make your own bone broth with chicken, beef, lamb, or pork bones, and enjoy it plain or with add-ins like noodles, rice, or veggies.

10. Flax Eggs for Baking

Plant-based bakers have long embraced flax eggs, but others who want to reap the benefits of flaxseed may like to give this a whirl, too. Rich in micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, flax eggs are a great vegan replacement for eggs in baking, and they're super easy to make at home.

How to Start

Make your own flax egg and use it in place of chicken eggs in your favorite cake, muffin, or cookie recipe.

11. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has become a popular plant-based milk replacement for a number of reasons. Not only does it lend a rich, tropical flavor to smoothies and a variety of dishes both sweet and savory, but it’s also rich in healthy fats, manganese, copper, and other minerals. Just be sure to choose a less processed coconut milk without any nasty add-ins like carrageenan (or you could always make your own).

How to Start

Use coconut milk in your favorite plant-based recipes, like this chilled avocado soup.

12. Tarka Spices

Spices add tons of flavor to your food, but some spices bring essential trace nutrients to the party as well. Nordby notes that tarka is a great way to add tons of flavorful, good-for-you spices to your favorite dishes.

Tarka, she explains, is an Indian technique where a blend of aromatics and spices is cooked in hot oil before being added to a dish. These spices might include antimicrobial garlic, capsaicin-rich chili, anti-inflammatory ginger, or even turmeric, a veritable wonder-spice that Nordby notes “has been linked to improved brain function, helping to fight depression, and acting as an antiseptic and cancer-fighting agent.”

How to Start

Toast a mix of spices in hot oil until they become just fragrant – no more than a minute or two – and add them to your favorite Indian-inspired dishes, like this detoxifying carrot soup.

13. Super Powders

Super powders like wheatgrass or chlorophyll should be in your regular rotation in 2018, according to Cat Cora, Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur. While she notes that these powders aren’t essential to health, “they give you a healthy boost.”

Whole Foods agrees: the natural foods store notes in its news release on top food trends for 2018 that powders are moving past traditional greens and protein to encompass everything from adaptogenic maca to turmeric powder for golden milk lattes and smoothies with a kick.

Do you agree with our favorite functional foods? Let us know via Twitter at @organicauthorit.

*Disclaimer: Help support Organic Authority! Our site is dedicated to helping people live a conscious lifestyle. We’ve provided some affiliate links above in case you wish to purchase any of these products.

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