Food with Function

It’s happened. Eating healthy is cool. Vegans, Paleo and Whole 30 devotees have become part of the “in crowd,” with more consumers than ever making bold declarations of challenging their food to do more for them. It seems that you can’t go a day without hearing about someone at work, in the neighborhood, at the gym and even the bar, making the switch to a healthier eating plan. You hear things like, “I’m going on a cleanse,” or “I’m cutting out sugars, carbs” to see “if it makes me feel better.” Consumers are also changing their eating habits to focus more on plant-based diets that feature whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds with the hopes of reducing hypertension, improving heart health, weight loss, and managing diabetes and cholesterol. More than ever, consumers see the link between the food they eat, how they feel, and their overall health.

What qualifies as functional foods?

IFT defines them as “foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition for an intended population and provide essential nutrients often beyond quantities necessary for normal maintenance, growth, and development, and/ or other biologically active components that impart health benefits or desirable physiological effects.”1 Functional foods can be classified as conventional foods like whole grains; modified foods such as yogurt or a whole grain pasta with protein;  medical foods like Axona that are intended for consumers with chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s; or special dietary foods (infant formula). Simply stated, functional foods are highly nutritious foods that do more than satiate hunger – they have the ability to positively affect our physical and mental health.

What Functional Foods are Consumers Seeking?

Google recently developed a Top Trending Foods with Function report and revealed the functional ingredients and foods that consumers are searching the most. The list is a virtual cornucopia and may or may not surprise you; but one thing is for sure, consumers are educating themselves on functional foods.

#1 Searched Functional Food2

Turmeric –Between November 2015 to January 2016, consumer interest in turmeric grew 56%, and consumers want to know how to consume it whether in powder form to add to smoothies, using the root to juice it or searching a recipe to use it. The health benefits for acne, arthritis, inflammation, joint pain, sleep and weight loss appeals to consumers.

#2-10 Top Google Searched Functional Foods

Raw apple cider vinegar – helps improve digestion, skin, weight loss, reducing blood sugar levels and improving energy. Many consumers swear two tablespoons of ACV is an elixir.

Jackfruit – Whether boiling and eating the seed of this exotic fruit or just the flesh, the jackfruit is loaded with protein and iron and helps with hair, skin, and building of lean muscles.

Manuka Honey – A  raw honey loaded with microbial benefits, Manuka honey does wonders for wounds and skin burns. It’s even FDA-approved in medicated bandage called Medihoney.

Kefir – Loaded with probiotics, kefir is the new Greek yogurt for consumers managing gut flora and digestion issues.

Coconut Milk – While having the reputation as high in fat, coconut milk is also high in lauric acid. Consuming lauric acid is a good thing as it’s converted into monolaurin, which is a strong antiviral and antibacterial known for overpowering disease-causing organisms.

Erythritol – Not really a functional food but a highly searched one as consumers still want sweet without the calories. Erythritol is the main ingredient in Truvia and is popular due to its ability to be excreted virtually unchanged with zero impact on blood sugar levels.

Bone Broth – If the idea of stronger bones and joints, more energy, better skin and sleep and help with a leaky gut appeal, bone broth is the panacea. Shops dedicated to the miracle tonic are cropping up all over including Chicago Bone Broth, which offers fresh bone broths within two days of ordering for pickup.

Cauliflower Rice – Swap out your regular white rice for cauliflower rice for 25 calories vs. 140 per cup and 77% of the daily requirement of Vitamin C. Feeling trendy? Use cauliflower rice as the base for your favorite pizza  – it’s all the rage on Pinterest. Or for a quick alternative, visit your local Trader Joe’s for a bag of the stuff

Avocado Oil – Anything that boasts the same amount of polyphenols as kale is a winner in our book. A rich source of oleic acid as well, avocado oil is less likely to spoil, has a high smoking point and can help improve glucose levels for diabetics. It also does wonders on hair.

#11-15 / Up and Coming Functional Foods

  • Bitter melon
  • Arrowroot Powder
  • High Protein Snacks
  • Lactose-Free Milk
  • Cumin Seeds

It’s also interesting to see industry response to the functional food movement. Many brands are looking to enhance formulations with functional ingredients like adding chia or flax to cereals, while others capitalize on consumers’ desires for big bold flavors along with function by incorporating fermented foods in their formulations. As the demand and awareness of functional foods grows, we could be possibly heading towards a time where foods might be designed to manage our sleep, energy levels and more.


  2. Google Trends, November 2015-January 2016, United States.