Why You Should Fall for Functional Food this Autumn

Fall foods bring excitement to most but functional fall foods deserve a major toast! Find out how fall functional food benefits health for the better.

Fall foods are great, but functional fall foods are even better! 

Healthy fall foods can do more than just create a feeling of coziness. Functional food benefits the body in many aspects, beyond the season of autumn. 

Read on for the top 10 functional foods to fall in love with this autumn. 

What Does Functional Food Mean?

Almost any food is functional food. Each food provides the body with fuel for a certain task. Foods called “functional foods” are thought to include additional health benefits beyond the normal nutrient profile. 

Instead of basic nutrition, functional foods include those that offer exceptional levels of vitamins and minerals. However, it is important to look carefully at food labels. The term “functional foods” is not closely regulated, meaning almost anyone can call their food functional and get away with it. 

Types of Functional Foods

Functional foods fall into two main categories: 

  1. Whole foods
  2. Fortified foods

Both of these options can be beneficial to health when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. Functional foods are also sometimes referred to as “nutraceuticals” due to their additives having medicinal benefits. 

Why Are Functional Foods Important?

Minimally processed functional foods can add nutrients to the diet that are not normally present. They can help those with deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals to replenish their stores. 

Functional foods represent a significant shift in the consumer market. Traditionally, chronic disease prevention and treatment have been the main focus defining healthcare. However, consumers have been embracing functional foods more fully as part of a holistic approach to health that can even promote proper growth and development. 

Foods that improve function may help individuals to feel better and have more energy each day. Consuming them as part of a balanced diet of whole, minimally processed food is a great way to promote wellness. They may also help protect against disease, nutrient deficiencies, and more. 

Functional Food List

Choose from the following list of functional foods to add variety to the dietary pattern. 

1. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are praised as an adaptogen that helps with stress management and may add overall balance to health. They are also suggested for better sleep or relaxation. While these claims need more modern research, mushrooms have been eaten for centuries for health and wellness. Plus, mushrooms provide an earthy aroma to fall dishes during the autumn season.  

2. Fish 

High in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy helpings of fish help people meet their nutrition needs. Healthy fats help with hormone balance and aid the body in many important functions. The top choices recommended by dietitians include salmon, sardines, trout, anchovies, mackerel, cod, and herring. 

3. Nuts 

Raw and unsalted nuts help support heart health. They are also an easy, on-the-go snack. Options high in minerals like magnesium include two classic favorites, cashew, and almond. 

Try adding the following to an autumn diet: 

  • Brazil nuts 
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pine nuts 
  • Peanuts 
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts 

4. Pumpkin Seeds (and Other Seeds, Too) 

Like nuts, seeds add “healthy” fats and other nutrients to the diet. Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds help add texture to the diet. They taste great on both sweet and savory dishes and can be a fabulous, functional addition to almost any plate or bowl. 

5. Squash 

From spaghetti squash to acorn squash to butternut squash, squash variety is abundant! In addition to their fall-esque hue, they are rich in fiber, vitamin A, and so many other beneficial nutrients. 

Squash can be enjoyed in so many ways, including in this roasted butternut squash and cranberry quinoa salad recipe that packs a major fall flavor! It makes a great side dish or can be topped with protein for a balanced weeknight dinner.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Generally harvested in the fall months, sweet potatoes are another food ingredient bursting with nutrients. While often viewed as a “comfort food”, sweet potatoes, and other potato varieties supply dietary fiber, vitamin A, potassium, and more.

Healthy fall recipes with sweet potatoes go beyond simply roasting them (although roasting with cinnamon is a deliciously warm option!). In fact, this sweet potato brownie recipe proves the versatility of the nutritious spud!

7. Autumnal Ancient (and Whole) Grains

Whole grains are really the whole package when it comes to nutrients! Not only do they offer dietary fiber, morning meals like cozy oatmeal help with cholesterol control and balance blood sugar levels. 

Other ancient and whole grains with amazing abilities are great for autumn and include:

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Couscous
  • Farro

8. Hearty, Fiber-filled Legumes

Like whole grains, beans and peas provide dietary fiber, too. Choosing low sodium or low salt options ensures maximum nutrition. Rinsing beans and peas beforehand also reduce the sodium levels significantly. 

Add fiber and protein to the diet with these delicious options during the fall: 

  • Black beans 
  • Chickpeas
  • Navy beans
  • Lentils 

9. Berries

A favorite among fruits, berries are renowned for their antioxidant abilities. They may also help contribute a low-calorie food option to diets for weight maintenance. Colorful and bite-size, berries like cranberries also add a touch of sweetness to some favorite fall dishes and desserts. 

10. Fermented Foods

Gut health is a hot topic within the functional food community. Fermented foods are thought to improve gut and digestive health, immune health, and more. Adventurous additions to the palate include: 

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Tempeh

11. Orange Juice

With calcium, and often vitamin D, orange juice is fortified for bone health. As part of a balanced breakfast, a glass of store-bought orange juice can be a quick and easy way to boost vitamin and mineral intake. 

Orange juice is a great example of how fortified foods can also be functional foods. A fresh glass also blends in with the colors of the season. 

12. Herbs and Spices

Who knew the spice cabinet held the secret to better health? Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper, and other powerful herbs are constantly studied by scientists for their astounding, medicinal abilities. 

Beyond the boring salt and pepper, spices can increase nutrient profiles without adding to conditions like hypertension. Fall is practically known for being a spice-centered season. Options like allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg make up the classic “pumpkin spice” or “pumpkin pie” seasoning. 

A Final Word on Functional Foods for Fall

Beyond basic nutrition, proponents of functional foods can certainly promote better health. Not only are these foods known for reducing the risk of heart disease and other conditions, but they also add to holistic health regimens. 

From berries of the forest to fish of the sea, learn about whole and fortified foods that do the most in the diet.  


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