It's no surprise that your diet affects your health, but being informed about what foods you eat can help treat issues like constipation and anxiety. If you haven't been feeling well lately, what you've been eating may be to blame — but changing up the menu can also be the solution to your problem. Meet functional foods.
Functional foods, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, are "foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition." Whether that's lowering your risk of disease or disorder, or simply treating a specific health problem you've been struggling with, functional foods can be part of your treatment plan as well as part of your dinner. They're not just healthy — they're also helpful.
If you've been struggling with digestive, sleep, or anxiety issues, indulging in these foods might make a difference in your health. For serious issues, speak to your doctor or health care professional. But adjusting your diet can start the heavy lifting. Check out what functional foods can do for you below.
Foods that help with constipation.
Having trouble with constipation can lead to extreme feelings of discomfort and bloating — but there are plenty of fiber-rich foods that can help. Spinach, for example, packs a whopping 4 grams per cooked cup, but it's also packed with magnesium, a mineral found in many laxatives that can help move things along in your digestive tract. Plain, air-popped popcorn also has about 4 grams of fiber per 3 cups. And as for oranges, an animal study supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China found that naringenin, a compound found in oranges and grapefruits, could have a laxative-like effect.
Also try: Prunes, kiwi, oatmeal, and coffee.
Avoid: Dairy, red meat, junk food.
Foods that help with acid reflux and heartburn.
When it comes to settling that burning feeling in your chest, avoiding certain foods can be helpful. But there are also foods you can add into your diet like ginger, a well-known anti-inflammatory. A study from the University of Michigan Medical School showed that ginger has the potential to decrease eicosanoid levels, meaning it could lower inflammation. It also contains a chemical found in many antacids used to treat heartburn. You can take it in capsule form or drink it in tea in small doses.
In a University of California, Berkeley study, they found that eating high-fiber vegetables, like broccoli, were associated with the significant reduction of risk of Barrett's esophagus, a disease diagnosed in people who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders also recommends chewing gum. As long as it's not a minty flavor, chewing gum can increases the amount of saliva production, reducing acid in the esophagus.
Also try: Melons, apples, egg whites, oatmeal, and root vegetables.
Avoid: Tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, citrus fruits, and caffeine.
Foods that help with diarrhea.
Dealing with this kind of upset stomach can be surprisingly dangerous, but there are a couple foods that can help you start feeling better. Since dehydration is a high risk, doctors recommend drinking lots of fluids, especially ones that contain salt and sugar. Dr. Donald Kirby, the director of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Human Nutrition, highlights a classic feel good recipe, chicken noodle soup. The U.S. National Library of Medicine agrees — the salty broth can help your body rehydrate. The Cleveland Clinic also cites the BRAT diet (bananas, white rice, applesauce, and toast) as a good go-to. Bananas are especially good, since they're both low-fiber and potassium-rich, meaning they can help firm up your movements while also replacing some of the nutrients your body has been losing. Though you should avoid dairy, low-sugar yogurt and kefir is an exception to that rule. They contain probiotics, which a study from the University of Chicago has shown significant benefits when treating diarrhea, and can reduce effects by about a day.
Also try: Rice, applesauce, sports drinks, toast, and baked potatoes.
Avoid: Dairy, citrus, garlic, spicy foods, and high-fiber foods.
Foods that help with anxiety.
Stress and anxiety can take a toll on not just your physical health, but your mental wellbeing. Seasoning your food with the spice turmeric can help. Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound that scientific studies have shown complements the brain's processing of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a deficiency of which can lead to cognitive disorders like anxiety. An animal study conducted by the Guru Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology in India found that it had significant anti-anxiety effects in mice. Salmon contains Vitamin D, the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A deficiency of Vitamin D has been found in a scientific study from the University of Queensland to be associated with adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes — like anxiety. A study from the China Medical University Hospital found that EPA and DHA consumed together daily had significant effects in reducing anxiety and anger. A French study in dark chocolate found that the treat may effect dopamine and serotonin levels, which can regulate and improve your mood, and lower anxiety levels.
Also try: Green tea, yogurt, citrus, and blueberries.
Avoid: Coffee, red wine, and candy.
Foods that help lower cholesterol.
Harvard Medical School writes that in order to lower cholesterol, you should eat more foods that lower low-density lipoprotein levels, or LDL, aka the bad kind of cholesterol. LDL is the particle that carries cholesterol through your arteries. Soluble fiber can bind to LDL, carrying that bad cholesterol out of the body instead of absorbing it. Beans are one such food, and they also take longer to digest, meaning you'll feel full longer. Strawberries are rich in pectin, another type of soluble fiber. Eggplant is another high in soluble fiber food, as well as being low-calorie.
Also try: Barley, oats, citrus, soy, fatty fish, avocado, nuts, and garlic.
Avoid: Beef, full-fat dairy products, eggs, and chicken.
Foods that help lower blood pressure.
If you're trying to manage your high blood pressure, eating foods low in dietary fat and sodium but high in potassium and calcium can help. Scientists at Colorado State University cite mushrooms as just one such food. Their research shows that a high potassium-sodium ratio is associating with a greater chance of maintaining normal blood pressure. Fish, like tilapia or salmon, offer similar such benefits in addition to being rich in protein and magnesium. A study from the Queen Mary University of London found that supplementing your daily diet with about one cup of beetroot juice reduced blood pressure in clinical trials.
Also try: Chocolate, whole grains, tomatoes, carrots, poultry.
Avoid: Full-fat dairy products, red meat, baked goods, and alcohol.
Foods that help you sleep.
A good night's rest is great for your health — and being under rested can have similarly negative effects. But drinking cherry juice, a source of melatonin, can help. A small study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center and funded by a cherry juice drink company found that drinking a tart cherry juice had beneficial effects for older adults suffering from insomnia. A second study found similar effects with patients who drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice per day sleeping for an approximate 85 extra minutes. Hummus is rich in tryptophan, the same amino acid in your turkey dinner that makes you ready for a nap after eating on Thanksgiving. Scientific studies have found that it improves sleep latency and obstructive sleep apnea, leading to a better night's rest. Like cherries, almonds also contain melatonin — and they contain magnesium as well. Scientists at the China Agricultural Research System found that a magnesium deficiency in your diet can lead to disrupted sleep and sleep deprivation.
Also try: Chamomile tea, kiwi, white rice, and kale.
Avoid: Sugar, hot sauce, alcohol, caffeine