Functional Eating: How To Multi-Task Using Your Diet

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 11:01am

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

In the United States, we strive to do more with less. We are constantly in search of places and products that are multi-functional or duel performers. Consider multipurpose products like cellular telephones that also work as day timers, alarms and cameras. Or face creams that not only moisturize but also exfoliate the skin while nourishing it with vitamins. What about one-stop shopping centers where you can go to purchase food, clothes, prescriptions and cosmetics? Many consumers prefer these superstores to help them save time and increase their efficiency. The theme for today’s busy consumer is access to resources that are multipurpose.

Be productive by eating healthy foods

What does this have to do with food and nutrition? If we demand multipurpose stores and products, why don’t we expect the same from the foods we eat? Doesn’t it make sense to choose foods that nourish your body and perform other functions at the same time? Yes, it does! Eating with a function in mind means consuming foods that are true multi-taskers. Such foods may help you to control your weight (high fiber), fight diseases (cancer), and strengthen your immune system (rich in antioxidants), or nourish you with energy and/or contain compounds that help your body manufacture chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain.

We see how obese Americans have become by relying on foods to fill them up that offer taste and energy but little else. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all on the rise. The scientific community doesn’t yet know how or why many nutrients found in foods only offer benefits that multivitamins do not. You cannot bottle flavonoids (a compound that gives cabbage and grapes their purple color). There are hundreds of multipurpose foods you can incorporate into your daily meals that taste great too.

Easy and nutritious substitutions

To get started with functional eating, try shopping for fresh, seasonal foods at your local farmer’s markets. In addition, there is now a wide variety of healthy foods at many major supermarkets that were once only available at health food stores. What do you have to lose compared to what you can gain? Try one substitution per day. Get the most out of your meals with some of the best functional foods around.

Instead of:


Handful of jellybeans

Handful of dried apricots

Strawberry milkshake

Fruit smoothie made with nonfat soymilk, frozen, unsweetened fruit and a splash of orange juice

Mayonnaise on your sandwich

⅛ avocado mashed and used as sandwich spread

White pasta

Cooked pearled barley or instant brown rice

Other multipurpose foods include apples, grapes, oranges, kiwi, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, fresh spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, fresh fish (tuna, mackerel, halibut, salmon), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), and legumes (lentils and beans). These are just some of the foods that meet the criteria for being multipurpose. They offer energy; fiber; vitamins and minerals, and other compounds; and antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavonoids that have been shown to fight disease and promote health. Herbs and spices (including cinnamon, turmeric, parsley and basil) contain these compounds as well.

By choosing foods with a purpose in mind you are consciously choosing foods that provide fuel and much more. Eat functionally daily by choosing 5-9 servings of different, colorful fruits and vegetables, soy or non-fat milk or yogurt, a variety of grains (such as quinoa, barley and oats), lean protein (including fish and beans), and healthful fats (olive and canola oil, nuts and avocado). Ease up on sugar and fatty foods because they offer flavor and calories but little else.

For further information on eating 5-9 servings of vegetables see the following article from TheDietChannel: 5-A-Day For Better Health Program: General Info.