Functional foods provide health benefits in addition to their nutritional benefits. Some of them contain vitamins or other ingredients designed to improve health.

Functional foods can be classified into three groups: conventional, modified and synthesised.

  • Natural, whole-food ingredients rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats are found in conventional food.
  • To improve their health advantages, modified foods are supplemented with additional nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fiber. A few examples of these are fortified juices, fortified dairy products, such as milk and yogurt.
  • Food ingredients that have been synthesised, such as some specific carbohydrates with probiotic properties.
What Are Functional Foods?

What are functional food ingredients?

Bioactive compounds that can be used to generate functional food items are known as functional ingredients. They can be derived from microorganisms, marine sources, and inorganic raw materials. There is a wide range of functional ingredients used in food for enhancing taste, texture, and other qualities. Here are a few of the most commonly used and high-growth ingredients:

  • Protein: Gelatin, plant-derived proteins (such as wheat, soy, rice, and pea), and, more recently, protein from cultured algae are also examples of protein ingredients. Many of these substances were developed using a cutting-edge process for separating and purifying specific protein components from their original native sources. Proteins aid in the management or even prevention of chronic diseases, the treatment of obesity, and the development of muscle mass as well as the prevention of muscle loss.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics: A probiotic is a live microbial dietary supplement that has favorable effects on health due to its actions in the intestine. Probiotics are commonly utilized in the preparation of fermented dairy products including yogurt and freeze-dried cultures. Prebiotics are nondigestible food elements that help health by encouraging the growth or activity of one or a few bacteria in the colon. They have beneficial characteristics that aid in the relief of digestive difficulties, the strengthening of the immune system, and the maintenance of healthy gut microbiota, or good bacteria.
  • Carotenoids: Carotenoids are fat-soluble, which means they are best absorbed when combined with fat. Xanthophylls and carotenes are the two main types of carotenoids. Carotenoids of both forms have antioxidant properties. They can protect you from disease and enhance your immune system.
  • Minerals: Macrominerals and trace minerals are the two types of minerals that are commonly added to food and beverages. Calcium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and chloride are macrominerals, which your body needs in enormous proportions.
  • Fatty acids: Some rich sources of essential fatty acids are fish, fish oils, and vegetable oils. EPA and DHA are two types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. They can improve your cardiovascular health.

Below are some functional foods –

  • Soy: Functional components Phytochemicals such as isoflavones and genistein, and soy protein reduce total and LDL cholesterol.
  • Oats: Help you feel fuller because of their slow-digesting fibers, which also reduce spikes in blood sugar.
  • Fruits and vegetables: The fiber, vitamins, and minerals contained in kiwis, oranges, and apples promote health. Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage, contain compounds that aid digestion and detoxification.
  • Fermented foods: The fermentation process, whereby natural, beneficial bacteria break down the starches in food, is not only good for preserving food; it also increases levels of nutrients and has significant effects on your gut health due to the probiotics (the bacteria that pre-digest the food).
  • Fatty fish: Among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish because they contain DHA and EPA in their active forms. Anti-inflammatory properties of these healthy fats help fight mental decline, heart disease, depression, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
  • Herbs and spices: Spices like ginger, turmeric, and black pepper, as well as herbs like thyme, oregano, and rosemary, reduce inflammation, aid digestion, and work together to provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective benefits.
  • Walnuts: Contains omega-3, high in disease-fighting antioxidants. They include oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been found to promote immune system function, increase uptake of fat-burning minerals, and reduce cholesterol.
  • Seeds: Chia and flax seeds are extremely nutritious, providing fibre, protein, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, among other components.
  • Green Tea: Has a set of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Help prevent damage from free radicals and keeps our bodies functioning at optimal levels and prevent chronic illnesses.
  • Avocado Oil: It’s high in monounsaturated fats, which may help lower cholesterol, lower the risk of heart disease, and keep hunger at bay. It also contains bloat-fighting potassium, as well as vitamins B and E, eye-protecting antioxidants.

Functional beverages include dairy beverages, energy drinks, sports drinks, ready-to-drink teas, fortified fruit drinks, plant milk, and enhanced water.

Benefits of functional food?

  • Provide antioxidants (like carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, anthocyanin, and polyphenols) that help neutralize harmful compounds known as free radicals, helping prevent cell damage and certain chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
  • Support intestinal health to boost the immune system.
  • Improve bone health from products fortified with calcium, such as yogurts, milk, and juice.

Functional foods may aid in the prevention of nutrient deficiencies and promote growth and development.

Hope you understood what are functional foods? Let’s see few more details about it.

Any of the five ways outlined below can be used to make a food product functional:

  • Removing a component that is known to cause or has been identified as having a negative effect when consumed
  • Including a component that isn’t found in most diets and isn’t necessarily a macronutrient or a micronutrient, but has been proved to offer health benefits.
  • Increasing the concentration of a naturally occurring component in food to the point where it has the desired effects
  • Replacing a component, usually a macronutrient, whose intake is frequently excessive, with a component that has been found to have favourable effects.
  • Increasing the bioavailability or stability of a component that has been shown to have a functional benefit or lessen the food’s disease-risk potential.

Health-promoting food and food components are expected to gain in popularity as consumers become more health-conscious.

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