chopping vegetables


What is a functional food?

Ready to take your daily routines to the next level? Meet functional foods.

What is a functional food?

Functional food is quickly becoming a buzzword...and for good reason. We’re living in a world full of foods with lots of caloric density and little nutritional value. This leads to craving more foods in an attempt to give our bodies the nutrients they are looking for. Functional foods reverse this pattern, providing our bodies with a flood of key nutrients that allow us to feel our best. Energy, focus, a strong immune system, deep sleep, these are all related to the nutrients our bodies are either getting or lacking in our diets. 

 In a sentence, functional foods are foods that have clear benefits to health and wellbeing. This means they are nutrient dense, providing the body with a range of phytochemicals and nutrients to help support your health. To start identifying functional foods, look first at whole foods. For example, organic berries are not only delicious, but they are loaded with antioxidant properties for your health. Organic nuts aren’t only a satisfying snack, but they are also a source of good-for-you fats and magnesium that is good for your heart. 

 At Four Sigmatic we’re all about functional foods. We start with organic, whole food Four Sigmatic ingredients (more on that below), and pair them with functional mushrooms and adaptogens to make them even better for you. For example, we start with organic coffee, which tastes amazing and makes you feel energized (as well as is a source of antioxidant properties), but can leave you with a brutal crash or unfortunate jitters. So we add in 2 functional mushrooms and adaptogens, like Lion’s Mane and Chaga, to help get the brain benefit while reducing the jitters. 1+1 sometimes equals 4! 

The quick and dirty: Functional foods are whole, organic foods that have a beneficial function to health and wellbeing.

Bell curve graph showing all the types of foods and identifying what a Four Sigmatic food is (four sigmas above your average food)

What is a Four Sigmatic food?

Cutting board full of colorful, functional foods

Where do Four Sigmatic foods fit into this picture? Do you know what Four Sigmatic means? It’s pretty nerdy but when you understand it, it’s actually very cool (from one nerd to another). 

Let’s break it down: If you take all the edible foods in the world and put them on a graph based on their nutrient density, some foods are horrible for you (processed, refined, GMO, corn syrup-y garbage) and some foods are amazing for you (dark leafy greens, colorful berries, herbs). If you illustrate this, a bell curve forms - with horrible foods on the left, awesome foods on the right. The majority of food falls somewhere in the middle. This is called a graph of natural distribution. A similar bell curve would form if you took all shoe sizes in the world, eye colors, height, etc. - there will always be outliers with rarities on both end points. If you draw a line in the very center of the bell curve, aka the mean, every measurement away from the mean is a standard deviation or a sigma. Anyone having flashbacks to middle school math? Stay with me! 

If you move to the left, that is the negative sigma direction, meaning foods are slowly getting worse and worse for you, or lower in nutrient density. If you move to the right, the positive sigma direction, foods are getting more and more nutrient dense, or better and better for you. Four sigma’s from the mean of all foods are the best of the best foods out there. At Four Sigmatic, we are committed to using foods that fall into this category. There are only about 100 foods that qualify as “four sigma.” These are the most researched and the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. Cool, right!? Check out the bell curve graph below to get a visual. 

What are the ~100 “four sigma” foods?

Some are probably very familiar to you. Ingredients like coffee, cacao, and green tea. Others may be a bit more novel, like reishi mushroom, ashwagandha, and chaga. If you’re using a Four Sigmatic product, you will be getting an effective dose of at least one, and sometimes >10 functional, Four Sigma Foods, in every product. 

But showing is better than telling Check out this short video I made on to explain what a Four Sigmatic food is as part of our Mushroom Academy.

Mushroom Academy

How to fit functional foods in your day

If functional foods are new to you, it may be hard to imagine how to start incorporating these into your routine. We get it! On their own, these foods are often bitter, hard to find, or difficult to prepare to actually receive their benefits. Some may simply be too foreign to remember to use. (Ever bought that one product that is so good for you and then it sits on your shelf for years collecting dust?) I like to say that “the medicine doesn’t work if you don’t take it.” What I mean is that it has to be easy to use, fit into your existing routine, and ideally be enjoyable. At Four Sigmatic, we’ve practically magically made this happen. Our philosophy is to add these functional foods to your existing daily routines, like coffee or smoothies, so it's simple and delicious to use everyday. Here are a few ways to bring functional foods into your daily life, whether you prefer a morning, mid-day, or evening routine: 

Photo credit: @well.n.strong

Graphic of a daily routine using functional foods
  • Morning routine: Already drink coffee? We’ve added functional mushrooms like Chaga and Lion’s Mane to organic Arabica coffee. The earthy and bitter flavor of coffee blends perfectly with these unique mushrooms. I promise, it tastes just like coffee, not like mushrooms. And, since most of us drink coffee everyday already, it couldn’t be easier to make a habit. 
  • Mid-day routine: Already make a smoothie or protein shake? We created a delicious plant-based protein with our favorite 7 functional foods. It has 18 grams of super clean protein per serving, nothing sketchy added (like gums or fillers), tastes amazing, and is packed with functional foods. 
  • Evening routine: Do you crave something sweet in the evening? Or reach for something to help unwind before bed? We made a European-style cacao with Reishi mushroom to satisfy your sweet tooth, without the guilt, plus extra functionality. Reishi is known as the “Queen of Mushrooms” and is our go-to functional food to help relax at the end of a long day.
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Taking the idea into action

As a Holistic Nutritionist, one of my go-to strategies with clients is to add before subtracting. There is overwhelming conversation around restriction, elimination, dieting, starvation, detoxing, and depriving the body in order to reach a greater sense of health. The problem with this is that you are approaching health from a state of lack. It feels constricting, challenging, and frankly, it’s no fun. Nor is it actually getting you towards true health. And we all know that it’s always only a matter of time until you eventually “give in,” reverting back to foods that you crave. 

What if reaching a higher state of health, (which looks different for every single person), could begin with adding rather than subtracting; with bringing more foods on board to add necessary nutrients that your body needs to thrive. 

The biggest issue I see in the majority of people is that we are actually deficient in certain nutrients- vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.- which makes it more challenging for our bodies to function optimally. When we start eating a diverse range of plants, add colorful foods into daily meals, and elevate routines by adding functional foods to them, the body starts to wake up. It is finally given the nutrients it needs to think optimally, sleep deeply, and keep the many systems of our body in balance. Depending on the functional foods you’re incorporating, you may feel a greater sense of focus, lowered stress, deeper rest, or more energy. When you start feeling all these benefits, there’s a snowball effect where the better you feel, the more you want to improve. It’s exciting, fun, expansive, and allows you to bring MORE into your cup, your plate, and your life. And one of the coolest side effects is that the “negative” habits, food choices, and behaviors naturally begin to fade away. 

Ready to take on the challenge of bringing functional foods into your daily routine? Here’s how to start. 

  1. Pick a time of the day that you know you have a routine. Something you do consistently, that likely is not going away anytime soon. The most common routines are morning, mid-day, and evening. 
  2. Identify what you eat or drink during that routine. A cup of tea, some coffee, a smoothie, a hot chocolate? 
  3. Your task is to add functional food to that routine.
Elevate your morning latte with functional foods

At Four Sigmatic, our products are 2-in-1 (or 5-in-1, or sometimes 10-in-1). We aim to make it as easy as possible for you to make a life rich in functional foods a reality. Four Sigmatic products do the pre-work for you, but you can also DIY. To create your own functional food recipes, start by:

  • Adding a high quality organic, fruiting body Mushroom Elixir into any drink or meal (mushroom broth, adding some powder to hummus, sprinkling over veggies) 
  • Or sprinkling your food with hemp, flax, or chia seeds
  • Incorporating a scoop of a powdered extracted herb into smoothies (maca, ashwagandha, and cacao are my favorites) 
  • Try mixing a new fruit or vegetable into your blender when making a smoothie

Photo credit: @earthy.jane

It’s up to you. Have fun with it, get creative, find what taste and colors and textures you crave. And know that your body is wise. Cravings often arise to help you fulfill a potential nutrient deficiency. Trust it, go for it, and smile knowing you're adding nourishing, powerful, functional foods into your life. 

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Purple smoothie bowl using Four Sigmatic Plant-based Protein, nut butter, hemp seeds, and granola
Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG)

Author: Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG)

As a Registered Herbalist (AHG), Holistic Nutritionist, and Instructor of Mycology, my passions all blossom from the natural world. I believe fungi are the most important teachers on our planet, silently guiding us towards a world of more connection with each other, the earth, and the answers we need to solve many of Earth’s problems. As the current Instructor of Mycology at CSCH and National Educator at Four Sigmatic, I’m so excited to bring you more education on functional mushrooms, adaptogens, and wellness, totally free.

Four Sigmatic

The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). The products sold on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your physician, and should not be construed as individual medical advice..