Functional Foods Work Harder for You

functional kitchen

In today’s food-conscious world, many of us want to get more benefits from the food we eat. Functional foods provide just that. A functional food is a natural food or manufactured food that has benefits beyond basic nutrition and calories.

According to Mayo Clinic nutritionist Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D., “All foods are functional because they provide varying amounts of nutrients and energy to sustain growth or support vital processes. However, functional foods are generally considered to offer additional benefits that may reduce the risk of disease or promote optimal health.”

Functional foods can also act like health supplements. For instance, the leaves of the moringa plant that I love so much can be considered a functional food (see Recipes for my moringa soup and dip recipes). Moringa leaves are often dried and ground, and the resulting green powder is added to soups or sauces to make them healthier. I use moringa powder to add the FoodTrients calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C and their health benefits to my dip for grilled artichokes. Calcium promotes bone and tooth growth, potassium enhances nerve and muscle function, vitamin A strengthens skin and hair, and vitamin C helps the body resist infection. As you see, I’ve taken my dip for veggies to the next nutritional level without compromising on flavor.

Ashitaba is another plant that is mostly used as a dietary supplement, especially in Japan. It’s considered a functional food because the benefits from eating it are so great. It contains high levels of vitamin B12, which boost energy and protect the heart and brain. Its chlorophyll purifies the blood, manages bacterial growth, detoxifies, and protects against certain cancers. Compounds unique to this species of plant, called chalcones, have anti-tumor, antibacterial, and wound-healing properties. I want to add the leaves to salads and soups so Look for my new salad and soup recipes with ashitaba in the future.

Turmeric is an amazing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. People have begun to add it to more than just orange juice and curry powders. TurmericAlive offers a line of turmeric juices that are spicy and functional. They call them “yoga in a bottle.” They are meant to be enjoyed like sports drinks, but their juices can also be used as marinades for chicken or fish.

Another great functional food is chia. They provide lots of fiber (an excellent detoxifying FoodTrient) and omega-3 fatty acids (a powerful anti-inflammatory FoodTrient), in addition to stabilizing your blood sugar.  I like to eat the tiny white or black seeds after they’ve been soaked in liquid for 20 minutes. My Chia Frescas recipes are wonderful if you like the taste and texture of chia seeds. But you may just want the health benefits of those tiny seeds without crunching on them. Well, I’ve found a pasta company that adds chia seeds to its wheat pastas (they are not gluten-free, but they are vegan). Al Dente Pasta Company makes a whole line of pastas infused with ground chia seeds. Called BonaChia, they are a bit chewier than traditional pasta, but they carry a nutritional punch. To complement the flavor of this unique pasta, I’ve created a southwestern-inflected recipe with ground pork, chiles, corn, and peppers.

Chia Fettuccine with Southwestern Pork and Veggies

You can use ground turkey in place of the pork, if desired. Try adding chopped onion, tomatillos, and/or jalapenos for more kick. Drizzle with crema Mexicana or sprinkle with cotija cheese if you’re not worried about calories. You can buy piment d’Espelette—a French chili pepper— as a powder or paste at specialty food stores, or substitute hot paprika to taste.

1 lb. ground pork
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced garlic
¼tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. piment d’Espelette
4 Tbs. corn oil or sunflower oil, divided in half
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped pasilla chile
1½ cups fresh corn kernels

Do you want to add: “to taste” or is it the same amount as in the recipe (1 tsp), in which case, add “or hot paprika” to the “1 tsp. piment d’Espelette” line in the ingredients?

1 tsp for both powder and paste?
1 package (10 oz.) BonaChia Fettuccine
¼ cup chopped scallions, as garnish


1.  Mix the ground pork and dry spices until evenly incorporated.
2.  Cook in 2 Tbs. of oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron (or heavy-bottomed) pan for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
3.  Add veggies and remaining oil to pan. Cook another 5 minutes.
4.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.
5.  Toss pasta with meat and veggies. Garnish with chopped scallions and cheese, if desired.

Serves 4



About Grace O

Grace O has been cooking and baking professionally and recreationally all of her adult life. As a child in Southeast Asia, she learned the culinary arts by her mother’s side in her family’s cooking school. She became so well versed in hospitality and the culinary arts, she eventually took over the cooking school and opened three restaurants. She is widely credited with popularizing shrimp on sugar-cane skewers and being one of the first culinarians to make tapas a global trend. She has cooked for ruling families and royalty. Grace O’s move to America precipitated a career in healthcare, inspired by her father, who was a physician. Twenty years and much hard work later, she operates skilled nursing facilities in California. Grace O strives to create flavorful food using the finest ingredients that ultimately lead to good health. Her recipes, although low in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, are high in flavor. Grace employs spices from all over the world to enliven her dishes, creating food that is different and delicious. She believes that food can be just as effective at fighting aging as the most expensive skin creams. And since she’s over 50 herself, she’s living proof of that.
What Do FoodTrients Do?
Ai Anti- inflammatories

Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.

Ao Anti- oxidant

Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.

IB Immunity Boosters

Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.

MB Mind

Improves mood, memory, and focus.

F Disease Prevention

Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.