Functional foods and adaptogens are not new but are becoming more and more common just like other common health-supporting foods and drinks all of us eat daily. Many of these have been around for centuries across the entire world but are now being used by different ages, cultures, and health backgrounds in common and unique types of recipes and dishes. But what are functional foods and adaptogens, exactly?
Functional foods and adaptogens are foods that are especially nutrient-dense and that can help balance the body in different ways. They are most useful during periods of stress or used regularly by those more prone to feeling out of balance and stressed, experience regular extreme fatigue, ongoing gut issues, adrenal health burnout, brain fog, skin issues, and low or weakened immunity. The wonder of these foods is that many of them are very common and can be eaten regularly, while others can be used periodically due to the way they may help energize the body without an energy crash later on. Others can help calm the body and be useful to those who have a hard time unwinding at the end of the day or who feel more stressed regularly than others might. Some also provide anti-inflammatory benefits and support the immune system during periods of low and weakened immunity, and others support enhanced mental clarity, hormonal balance, improved skin health, and better gut health.
Think of this as a balancing effect similar to the way you think of the difference between a calming cup of natural green tea versus the “rush” or jolt of energy you might experience from a triple dose of espresso or a bottled energy drink with excessive amounts of caffeine (and other stimulants) that leaves your body depleted later and more tired than it was to start with. Or the difference between eating a highly processed candy bar with a lot of refined sugar and processed chemicals versus eating a meal balanced in fruits, vegetables, healthy complex carbohydrates, and lean sources of protein. The difference between how you feel after each of these is night and day, not to mention the difference in the way each of them affects your immunity, gut health, brain health, skin health, and more.
Below you’ll find some of our favorite functional foods and adaptogens that many people use, love, and attribute to supporting their health enough to use them on a regular basis. You’ll also see how easy they are to use! Some of them are more common and ones you already may enjoy while others might be new, so there is a range that you can pick and choose from to try out yourself. Give them a go in some of our favorite recipe ideas ranging from everything from smoothies to frozen desserts to entrées, appetizers, and more. We hope you give some of the recipes below a try as well. Learn how to support your health in unique and different ways with these powerful functional foods and adaptogens!
1. Medicinal Mushrooms: Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps, Lions Mane, Shiitake and Maitake
Medicinal mushrooms include the above mushroom types that stem from ancient cultures used for centuries due to their immune-modulating benefits that help support and may improve brain health, low immunity, and periods of high stress. Mushrooms are different types of fungi that grow from the effects of sunlight and rainfall, and some can survive long periods of extreme weather which signals their adaptogenic nature. They are great sources of antioxidants, the mineral selenium, B vitamins, prebiotic fiber, and vitamin D. Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps, and Lions Mane might be new to you, while Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms are more well-known and found in many grocery stores. Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms can be sourced by suppliers that are able to put them in grocery stores, and they are especially delicious when cooked with vegetables. Give them a try in this incredible Wild Mushroom Toast with Kefir Miso Butter or these Wild Mushroom Tacos.
Other more unique mushrooms aren’t ones you’ll find in the produce department but they can be worth seeking out since they offer different benefits. Cordyceps is known as being a mushroom that has an energizing effect, Lion’s Mane is known as being a brain-boosting mushroom that can help with focus, and Reishi and Chaga are great for immunity and balanced energy levels. You’ll find these mushrooms in the form of powders, tea, and superfood blends that you can use in everything from smoothies to beverages, even entrées, and appetizers. They have a neutral, earthy flavor so they can be used anywhere you choose.
2. Restoring Roots: Maca, Ashwagandha, Ginger, and Turmeric
Maca and ashwagandha are roots that have been around for longer than any of us have been alive. They grow in other parts of the world with Maca growing primarily in Peru while ashwagandha root originates from India. Both offer energizing and calming properties, which seems odd until you experience the benefits of these roots over time. They are also good for the immune system as a result, and can even support hormonal balance in both men and women, proving another wonder they have in common. Additionally, both maca and ashwagandha can grow under high periods of stress, extreme heat and cold, and drought which shows their adaptogenic properties to all types of environments. They can be used as powders in smoothies, teas, and even coffee beverages. Maca has an inviting earthy flavor that even has notes of butterscotch and caramel. Give it a try in our latest Maca Smoothie, which is a delicious way to enjoy this wonderful root. Make a tea with ashwagandha as a natural way to unwind; it pairs great with chamomile, ginger, and other calming herbs and roots.
Ginger and turmeric are more common roots you’ll find on the spice aisle of the grocery store and are delicious in everything from porridges to teas, entrées, and even desserts. Spicy by nature and glowing in color, these roots are beneficial to digestion, can improve inflammation in the body, and can help support immunity. Ginger goes great in oatmeal and turmeric is even tasty this way too; they also both work well when cooked with vegetables, fish, and brown rice for dinner. Or try our Carrot Ginger Turmeric Smoothie with both of them!
3. Triumphant Teas: Matcha Japanese Green Tea, Yerba Mate, and Panax Ginseng
Energizing and even buttery in tasting, matcha green tea is one of the best natural adaptogenic and functional teas to try to start with. It is an adulterated, unheated form of green tea leaves that come from Japan and is especially a great substitute for coffee if coffee doesn’t affect you in a positive way. Matcha energizes without a crash and provides steady, calming energy without jitters. It is sold as a bright green powder that you can find in the tea aisle of the store, usually in cans or tins; some manufacturers also sell it in tea bag forms. We love matcha so much that we even use it in one of our amazingly delicious and nutritious whole milk kefir products. Look out for this product near you as the perfect way to enjoy this amazing tea yourself. Or, give this Matcha and Cucumber Ginger smoothie a try for a fast and easy breakfast. We’re also loving this Matcha Mint Frozen Kefir as a dessert!
Yerba mate is also a tea with similar properties, though mostly sold as a smoked tea leaf; it is a delicious green tea with natural energizing properties that can last all day long and has even been shown to support better digestion and regularity. Many people also use Yerba mate as a natural coffee replacement if they don’t tolerate coffee well. Finally, Panax Ginseng is another tea becoming more common, so much so that it’s often found in many energizing tea blends sold in bags at the grocery store. You’ll probably find it listed as just “ginseng” on a tea box label, and it offers wonderful energizing properties but isn’t quite as calming as matcha green tea powder.
4. Brilliant Berries: Schisandra Berry, Açaí Berry, Goji Berry, Maqui Berry, Elderberries, and Blueberries
All of these berries have a beautiful deep, dark red or blueish purple color that indicates their high antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory benefits. You already know and probably love blueberries (we do too!), but others may be new to you. Schisandra and elderberries are both used for immune system support and are sold as teas, tinctures, and powders while goji, açaí, and maqui berry powder are used in superfood powder forms for the most part, but some can be found whole at the store. Goji berries are sources of vitamin A, which is beneficial for the skin and immune system. It is sold in whole, dried form and works with both savory and sweet recipes since they are naturally sweet and savory in flavor. Açaí berry, known as the beauty berry, is sold as a powder or in frozen packs now in the aisles of the supermarket. Maqui berry offers similar benefits as açaí but is even higher in antioxidants, though it only comes in dried powder forms for now. All of these berries have incredibly high amounts of antioxidants that support brain health, skin health, and immunity, and they are sources of natural fiber like all berries that support digestion and the microbiome. They’re all fantastic to use in smoothies, oatmeal, puddings, and more.
Blueberries, which you’ll find whole and dried at most grocery stores are so incredible that they have been linked to reducing the rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease. They are also good sources of vitamin C, and fiber, and they are truly delicious to beat all else. We love blueberries so much that we use them in many of our amazing Lifeway Kefir and Lifeway Oat products! Give them a try in smoothies and frozen desserts, and don’t forget to top your recipes with a fresh handful of whole blueberries too. Our Blueberry Pie Smoothie is an easy, fast way to enjoy blueberries yourself. Give goji berries and acai berry a whirl in our Spiced Strawberry Smoothie or this Chocolate Acai Bowl.
5. Cultured Dairy Foods: Kefir, Yogurt, and Probiotic Cheeses
Let’s not forget to include some probiotic power foods here: cultured dairy products which include our Lifeway Kefir and Farmer Cheese, along with our non-dairy Lifeway Oat cultured oat milk for all our dairy-free friends out there. Natural yogurts are another cultured dairy you might be familiar with; our GlenOaks pourable yogurt is a unique and fun way to give it a try yourself. All cultured dairy products have been used for centuries to support the immune system and gut health.
Cultured dairy products are sources of protein and probiotics and have a diverse range of probiotic cultures to support the microbiome, skin, immune system, and digestion. We offer an incredible range of kefir milk to try in non-fat, low-fat, and whole milk forms so that everyone has something to choose from. Kefir is such an incredible food with probiotics that nourish and balance. Furthermore, it’s a natural source of calcium, B vitamins, protein, phosphorus, and potassium. It offers restoring, strengthening, and nourishing benefits on many levels and is also a great way to cool down after you work out due to nutrient replenishment after exercise. With scrumptious flavors like blueberry, strawberry, mixed berry, peach, and even lemon, you can use our flavored kefirs in so many recipes while getting a dose of probiotics, B vitamins, and potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and protein at the same time. Or, for all our plain kefir lovers out there, we offer our plain kefir, which is completely unflavored and comes in low-fat, non-fat, and whole milk forms. Try out our kefir in this Golden Immunity Smoothie or our Raspberry Peach Green Tea Smoothie, pictured above, as colorful, healthful ways to start using kefir today.
Lifeway Oat is another option to try out the benefits of cultured foods if you can’t have (or choose not to have) regular dairy products; it contains 10 probiotic cultures that are vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free since we only use certified gluten-free organic oats in Lifeway Oat products.
Lifeway Farmer Cheese is an amazing food to try if you already love other types of spreadable cheese like cottage cheese and ricotta cheese. Farmer cheese is a good source of probiotics and protein and is a natural source of calcium and vitamin D just like our kefir products. We love it so much on toast, in dips, and even in various entrées and appetizers of all kinds. Check out all our recipes to give Lifeway Kefir, Oat, and Farmer Cheese a try. We hope you love them as much as we do!
More Functional Foods and Apaptogens to Try:
Other adaptogens and functional foods include everything from green leafy vegetables, healthy indulgences like raw cacao and chocolate, and nutrient-dense, balancing whole grains that support protein balance, hormones, sleep, and mood. These include the following: adaptogenic teas such as Rhodiola Leaf, Moringa, and Tulsi (Holy Basil Leaf) that an energize without a crash; deeply colored leafy greens including Spinach, Kale, Dandelion, Arugula, Swiss Chard, and Wheatgrass that support the immune system, heart, and digestion; heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids such as flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and wild salmon that benefit the skin; whole grains such as oats, brown rice, millet, amaranth, barley, and quinoa, all rich in magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber; and let’s not forget, antioxidant-rich chocolate: raw cacao powder and natural dark chocolate (sold as chips or bars).
These foods and beverages are ones that you may have already enjoyed or at least tried, and we encourage you to explore them to see which options work best for you and your personal needs and goals. Keep experimenting with them and using them and learn to love the way they can provide nutrient-dense options that balance, energize, and support you, however that may be needed during different periods of the day and night at various times throughout the year.
What to Remember:
It is important to remember that some functional foods affect different people in different ways, so don’t feel as though you have to use all these, or even feel that you should. Think of them as health supporters that are there to pick and choose from to see which ones work best for you depending on how your body needs to become more balanced, supported, and healthful. That’s the beauty of them; there’s something for everyone! You may also want to discuss using them with your practitioner or other health providers to make sure they don’t interact with any medications or other supplements you might be taking.
Functional foods and adaptogens may also take time to work and directly influence the body’s physiology depending on which ones you’re using, so start with one or two and go from there. Although it might be tempting, it’s not always useful or helpful to every single one of these to your routine at once, especially with some of the more uncommon roots, mushrooms, and teas. This might be less effective than just trying out one or two to start with. You can also try rotating different ones throughout the seasons of the year and seasons of life. And don’t forget to love your guts all year round and listen to your intuition when it comes to using foods and drinks for your health. We support you no matter what part of your gut health journey you’re on!