Jul 06, 2022

Superfood vs. Functional Food: What’s the Difference?

By Zuza Tabak
Overhead shot of spoons with colorful superfood powders

Some of the buzzwords you probably hear most often in the wellness world are “superfoods” and “functional foods”. It feels like everyone’s telling us that we need to include them – lots of them – in our diet. Supercharge your smoothies! Jam pack your snacks! However, with no established criteria to determine what exactly superfoods and functional foods are, these often misused terms cause their fair share of confusion for consumers.

It might also seem like the terms “superfood” and “functional food” are often used interchangeably. Some incredible foods are in fact both a superfood and a functional food! But these two terms in fact represent two different categories when it comes to the way in which foods support our health and wellness. 


While these terms are fairly modern, they actually represent ingredients and foods that have been around for millenia (and some are even staples in traditional systems of medicine). 


These are all about nutrient density. These foods have particularly high levels of nutrients by weight, including vitamins, minerals and various phytonutrients (aka compounds from plants, many of which are powerful antioxidants). 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines superfood as: a food that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person's health.

Functional foods 

These foods, on the other hand, are those that impact the functioning of our body (e.g. digestive, immune and cognitive function). 

According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), functional foods are foods or food components that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition.

Overhead shot of bowls of superfoods and powders


  • Berries (in particular, goji, açaí and blueberries): super high in antioxidants called flavonoids 
  • Cacao: antioxidants, dietary fibre and rich in magnesium and iron
  • Cinnamon: nutrient-rich, high in dietary fibre, manganese and antioxidants like flavonoids. its essential oil offers antimicrobial and antifungal properties
  • Pine Pollen: protein (including all nine essential amino acids), fats, dietary fibre, starches and hundreds of vitamins, minerals and enzymes 
  • Matcha/Green tea: Super rich in antioxidants, particularly catechins which help fight inflammation with their anti-inflammatory properties
  • Moringa: rich in ​​90 nutritional compounds, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fibre, along with vitamins and minerals
  • Seaweed: wide range of vitamins and minerals, including iodine, as well as antioxidants
Close up image of a spoonful of Spirulina
  • Spirulina: rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients and a great source of healthy omega-3 fats
  • Turmeric: Rich in antioxidants, particularly Curcumin, as well as anti-inflammatory and digestion supporting 
  • Wheatgrass: High in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants including glutathione and vitamins C and E


Lion's Mane mushroom
Manuka honey in bowl with Manuka flower
  • Manuka honey: Rich in antibacterial and antiviral properties

  • Matcha: The unique combination of L-theanine and caffeine produces an “alert-calm” effect meaning you get the focus and energy of caffeine without the crash, while also supporting cognitive function. Matcha has also been shown to support detoxification pathways along with metabolism and fat-burning

Overhead image of whole and powdered Turmeric, Ginger and Cinnamon
  • Spices: 
    • Cinnamon: blood sugar regulation, digestion & gut supporting and antioxidant rich 
    • Ginger: Digestive, gut support and helping to ease respiratory conditions
    • Turmeric: Digestive support, antioxidant rich and anti-inflammatory properties  

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of superfoods or functional foods, these examples illustrate how easy it can be to incorporate these powerful ingredients in your daily meals and drinks and reap the health benefits – in fact, we bet some are already in your pantry!

Zuza Tabak
by Zuza Tabak

Zuza is currently studying Holistic Nutrition at IHN in Toronto, Canada. She's a balcony garden enthusiast and rescue dog mama.