Foods with functional benefits provide far more than just basic nutrition; they also offer health-promoting qualities. They have become increasingly popular due to the growing interest in healthy eating and the prevention of chronic diseases. Functional foods have been shown to possess disease-fighting properties, making them a valuable addition to a healthy diet.
In this article, we will explore some of the functional foods that can be particularly important for autoimmunity and bone health.
The following functional foods have been shown to reduce inflammation and support the immune system, potentially reducing the risk or severity of autoimmune diseases.
Berries: The sweetest functional foods
Bursting with flavor and packed full of nutrients, berries are an essential inclusion in any functional foods diet. But beyond their sweet and juicy taste, berries also possess a wide range of health benefits, especially for those concerned with reducing inflammation and promoting healthy bone development. Berries have been shown to be rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and phytochemical compounds that are beneficial for overall health and wellness.
Bursting with anti-inflammatory properties, berries are a powerhouse of health benefits. Berries contain a range of flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, quercetin, and catechins, which have been found to modulate the inflammatory response in the body. These flavonoids work by interacting with various cellular signaling pathways and reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body.
Antioxidants are another critical component of berries’ anti-inflammatory effects. Bursting with an abundance of antioxidants like vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and flavonoids, berries are a nutritional powerhouse easily added to your functional foods diet. These antioxidants can neutralize harmful free radicals produced by oxidative stress and inflammation, ultimately improving the overall health of the body.
Moreover, Vitamin C is abundant in berries and plays a pivotal role in the fabrication of collagen; an essential protein that provides strength and stability to bones.
Apart from antioxidants and flavonoids, berries also contain a wealth of essential nutrients that are integral to good overall health. For example, berries are an excellent source of vitamins, such as vitamins C, B vitamins, and vitamin K. They are also rich in minerals, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Consuming essential nutrients is imperative for strong, healthy bones. Not only do they help to increase bone density and strength but also ward off any potential loss in the future.
Phytochemicals, especially polyphenols, are another class of bioactive compounds present in berries that play a crucial role in bone development and inflammation. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. Studies have shown that polyphenols can inhibit the activity of enzymes that degrade the extracellular matrix of cartilage and bone, leading to improved bone health.
In particular, the polyphenol resveratrol, which is found in grapes and berries, has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory and bone-building properties.
Ultimately, berries possess a low glycemic index and load which keeps blood sugar levels in check without causing dramatic spikes. Elevated blood sugar levels cause the generation of inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress, which encourage a range of long-term illnesses like osteoporosis. By stabilizing blood sugar levels, berries help to reduce inflammation and prevent the development of chronic diseases and are an essential tasty addition to any functional foods diet.
Fatty Fish as functional foods
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, are well known for being rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But beyond that, researchers have found that seafood holds substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds that support overall health, including the significant anti-inflammatory benefits of fatty fish.
The primary component making this possible is omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in high concentrations in fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are potent anti-inflammatory agents that can reduce inflammation throughout the body by blocking the production of prostaglandins and cytokines, both of which are inflammatory mediators.
Moreover, fatty fish are also rich in antioxidants and nutrients that can help to reduce inflammation and support healthy bone development. For instance, fatty fish contains vitamins A, and E, which work as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals and decrease inflammation, while vitamin D found in fatty fish is critical in assisting the body in absorbing calcium, which is a vital component in building and maintaining strong bones. Similarly, minerals like selenium, magnesium, and zinc present in fatty fish aid in fighting inflammation and contribute to healthy bone development.
Fatty fish also contains collagen, a protein that supports healthy bones, joints, and skin. Collagen is a structural protein that provides a framework for the bones to create a strong, flexible structure. Fatty fish contains certain types of collagen that are particularly useful in promoting bone health, and slowing down or reducing the inflammation and pain that comes with aging.
Studies have revealed that adding fatty fish to the diet can potentially reduce the risk of several chronic conditions, including heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer. The anti-inflammatory benefits of fatty fish can help to reduce the low-grade chronic inflammation that is associated with these conditions while also promoting healthy bone development. 
However, it’s significant to keep in mind that excessive consumption of fish may lead to the intake of harmful compounds like mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which can be detrimental to one’s health. To avoid ingesting high levels of pollutants in fish, it’s recommended to obtain fatty fish from reputable sources and avoid large predatory fish varieties. Oily fish are an essential addition to your anti-inflammatory bone-building functional foods diet regime.
Turmeric: One of nature’s essential functional foods
Turmeric is widely recognized for its distinct flavor and use as a spice in many cuisines. However, research has uncovered its potential health benefits beyond its role in cooking. Specifically, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties make it a valuable functional food for fighting inflammation and supporting bone health.
The primary active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, a natural compound that has been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Curcumin interacts with various cellular signaling pathways in the body, including those involved in inflammation, to help reduce inflammation and support the body’s natural healing processes.
It can also help to reduce the production of free radicals that damage cells and contribute to aging and disease.
Turmeric also contains several other bioactive compounds, including essential oils and polyphenols, that contribute to its therapeutic properties. For instance, turmerone, a compound found in turmeric, has been found to be effective in supporting the body’s natural ability to repair itself and protect against the oxidative stress associated with aging and inflammation.
Furthermore, turmeric contains several essential nutrients that support bone health. Adequate calcium intake is essential for strong bones. Incorporating turmeric into your routine can help keep these essential pieces in place while offering natural relief from bone-joint pain and inflammation.
The antioxidant properties of turmeric are also beneficial in promoting healthy skin and supporting collagen synthesis, a protein that helps to give bones and skin their structure and strength. Collagen synthesis plays an essential role in promoting healthy bone development and wound healing. While turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects may also support injury recovery.
Research has also shown that turmeric can help to alleviate symptoms related to many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. The ability of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, to modulate cellular signaling pathways is believed to play a crucial role in these potential therapeutic benefits.
Finally, one of the most significant benefits of turmeric is its versatility. With its subtle aroma and earthy flavor, turmeric is easy to include in a variety of different dishes, making it an accessible and delicious choice for daily consumption. It can be added to smoothies, teas, soups, and stews, or combined with other spices to make a powerful spice blend that adds flavor, anti-inflammatory properties, and health benefits to your functional foods-based meals.
Leafy Greens are vital functional foods
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, and arugula are excellent sources of nutrition and have been shown to have important anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These vegetables are rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and compounds that help to reduce inflammation and promote bone health.
One of the key benefits of leafy greens is their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals – molecules that are produced when our bodies break down food or are exposed to pollutants like smoke and radiation.
When free radicals accumulate, they can cause inflammation, which can lead to a range of health problems. However, antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals, reducing their harm and preventing inflammation.
Another important benefit of leafy greens is that they are rich in nutrients that support bone health. For example, they are a good source of calcium, a mineral that is essential for strong bones. Adequate calcium intake can help to prevent osteoporosis – a condition in which bones become brittle and weak, increasing the risk of fractures. Furthermore, the magnesium in leafy greens helps to support calcium absorption and bone health.
Leafy greens and collagen
Leafy greens also contain compounds that help to promote collagen production. Collagen is a protein that is important for maintaining healthy joints, skin, and bones. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, which can lead to sagging skin, joint pain, and weakened bones. However, by eating leafy greens, we can help to maintain healthy collagen levels and prevent these age-related problems. For example, kale and spinach are particularly rich in vitamin C, which is essential for collagen synthesis.
While plant-based silica is most commonly associated with rice, oats, and bamboo, it can also be found in leafy greens. In fact, many leafy green vegetables are a good source of this essential mineral. For example, kale, spinach, and collard greens all contain high levels of silica. Silica is essential for collagen production and helps to maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Additionally, silica is important for bone health as it helps to improve bone density and increase bone mineralization. Therefore, incorporating leafy greens into your diet is a great way to increase your intake of plant-based silica.
In addition to these benefits, leafy greens are also known to contain anti-inflammatory compounds. For example, they are rich in flavonoids, which are plant compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation and enhance immune function.
Furthermore, they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Leafy greens are the cornerstone of any functional foods diet.
Leafy greens and flavonoids
Leafy greens are an excellent source of flavonoids, a group of plant compounds that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Flavonoids can be found in a variety of foods, but leafy greens are particularly rich in these important phytonutrients. Flavonoids have been shown to reduce inflammation, boost immune function, and improve overall health.
One of the key benefits of flavonoids is their anti-inflammatory effects. Chronic inflammation is associated with a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Flavonoids help to reduce inflammation by neutralizing harmful free radicals in the body, promoting the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, and suppressing pro-inflammatory enzymes.
Flavonoids can also enhance immune function by boosting the activity of white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting infection and disease. This can help to reduce the risk of infections and improve overall health.
In addition to these benefits, flavonoids have been shown to have neuroprotective effects, which can help to protect against cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Flavonoids also improve cardiovascular health by reducing oxidative stress, promoting healthy blood flow, and lowering blood pressure.
Now let’s take a look at some functional foods that are particularly important for bone health.
Dairy Products as functional foods
Although dairy products have been controversial in recent years, they are still one of the most significant sources of calcium and other essential nutrients in a typical diet. In addition, various components of dairy products have been found to possess anti-inflammatory properties, making them an important part of the diet for those seeking to reduce inflammation and promote healthy bones.
One of the key benefits of dairy products is their high calcium content. Calcium is essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth, and consuming adequate amounts of calcium can help to prevent osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions. In addition to calcium, dairy products contain other bone-building nutrients, including vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Dairy products also contain antioxidants, such as vitamins A and E, which help to combat free radical damage in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause inflammation and other health problems if they accumulate in large numbers. The antioxidants in dairy products help to neutralize these unstable molecules, reducing the risk of inflammation and promoting overall health.
From sulfur-containing amino acids to vitamins A and E, carotenoids, zinc, selenium, and beyond – dairy products are a treasure trove of antioxidants that carry numerous health benefits. In addition to these compounds, beneficial enzyme systems such as superoxide dismutase or catalase can be found in milk alongside glutathione peroxidase; milk oligosaccharides; peptides developed through fermentation or cheese ripening. 
Lipophilic and hydrophilic milk antioxidants work together to balance the antioxidant activity in our body, helping us maintain a healthy pro-oxidant state..
The antioxidant potency of functional food dairy products relies heavily on the raw material quality, bacterial cultures utilized in production, and natural plant additives added to some variants..
Furthermore, some dairy products have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. For example, probiotics found in yogurt and kefir have been shown to reduce inflammation and enhance gut health. Additionally, some studies have found that certain peptides found in dairy products exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in the context of gastrointestinal inflammation.
However, it is essential to note that dairy products may not be suitable for everyone. Some people, particularly those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, may experience adverse reactions to dairy products. Furthermore, while some studies have suggested that dairy products may reduce inflammation, others have found mixed results.
Nuts and Seeds as tasty snacking functional foods
Nuts and seeds are a delicious and nutritious addition to any functional foods diet, and they have been shown to have important anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These bite-sized snacks are packed with antioxidants, nutrients, and other compounds that can help to reduce inflammation and promote overall health.
One of the key benefits of nuts and seeds is their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants help to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, protecting against cellular damage and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Nuts and seeds are particularly rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation.
Additionally, nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats, such as omega-3s and monounsaturated fats, which help to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, but chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of many chronic diseases. By consuming more nuts and seeds, you can help to support a healthy inflammatory response in the body.
Nuts and seeds are also rich in nutrients that are important for bone health, including calcium and magnesium. These minerals help to build strong bones and teeth, and consuming adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium can help to prevent osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.
Nuts and seeds contain other important nutrients as well, such as vitamin B6, phosphorus, and zinc. Vitamin B6 helps to support the nervous system and red blood cell production, while phosphorus is important for strong bones and teeth. Zinc helps to support the immune system and is involved in wound healing and DNA synthesis.
Apart from these benefits, nuts, and seeds are rich in phytonutrients, such as flavonoids and phytosterols, that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Flavonoids help to reduce inflammation, protect against free radical damage, and promote heart health. Phytosterols, on the other hand, help to reduce inflammation in the gut and have been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Brazil nuts and selenium
Brazil nuts are a versatile and nutritious snack that can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. They are particularly rich in selenium, an essential mineral that is involved in many important processes in the body. Consuming adequate amounts of selenium can help to reduce inflammation, promote heart health, and support the immune system.
Brazil nuts are packed with nutrients and antioxidants, including selenium. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in many bodily functions, including immune function, reproduction, and metabolism. It also helps to fight free radical damage (which can lead to chronic disease) and has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.
Research suggests that consuming adequate amounts of selenium may reduce inflammation in the gut and lower the risk of certain types of cancer. A 2013 study found that individuals who consumed higher amounts of dietary selenium had lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation). Additionally, other studies have found an association between increased selenium intake and reduced risk of several types of cancer. 
Vegetables are functional foods staples
Eating more vegetables is one of the easiest ways to reduce inflammation in the body. Vegetables are packed with antioxidants, nutrients, and other compounds that can help to protect against inflammation and promote overall health.
One of the key benefits of eating more vegetables is their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants help to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, protecting against cellular damage and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are particularly rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation.
Additionally, many vegetables are excellent sources of healthy fats, such as omega-3s and monounsaturated fats, which help to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, but chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of many chronic diseases. By consuming more vegetables as part of a balanced diet, you can help to support a healthy inflammatory response in the body.
Vegetables also contain important nutrients that are essential for bone health, including calcium and magnesium. These minerals help to build strong bones and teeth, and consuming adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium can help to prevent osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.
Many vegetables contain other essential nutrients as well, such as vitamins A, B6, C, and K; phosphorus; iron; zinc; folate; and dietary fiber. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy skin; vitamin B6 helps form red blood cells; vitamin C boosts your immune system; vitamin K helps with wound healing by aiding blood clotting. All these vitamins are essential for maintaining good health over time.
Apart from these benefits, some vegetables are rich in phytonutrients such as flavonoids and phytosterols which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Flavonoids reduce inflammation by fighting free radical damage caused by environmental pollutants or poor lifestyle choices.
Phytosterols have been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut lining which has been linked with a decrease in colon cancer risk when consumed regularly.
In conclusion, functional foods offer a wide variety of health benefits beyond basic nutrition. For those with autoimmune conditions, including berries, fatty fish, turmeric, and leafy greens in your diet can help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. For those looking to support bone health, dairy products, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and vegetables are all excellent sources of nutrients that promote strong bones. By incorporating these functional foods into your diet, you can support your overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
If you love functional foods and want even more nutrient-boosting power, why not take a look at our superfoods section?