Functional foods have gained huge popularity among health and wellness enthusiasts in recent times. They are also known as nutraceuticals; these power foods are immensely rich in nutrients and linked with an array of health benefiting properties. Functional foods are intensively researched and largely promoted in the field of food and nutrition. A diet that comprises functional foods is the best protector against diseases, averts nutritional deficiencies, promotes growth and development, and lowers the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke to mention a few.
What Are Functional Foods?
Functional foods are components that render wellness incentives that extend beyond their nutritional content that is intended to optimise overall health. This concept was first developed in Japan in the 1980s when the government approved foods with proven benefits to uplift the health of the populace, these include foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fibre. These foods can be whole, fortified, enriched, or enhanced that ranging from fruits, vegetables, seeds, herbs, spices, and teas that deliver therapeutic benefits.
For example, oats are packed with a kind of fibre called beta-glucan that has proven to lessen inflammation, boost immune function and augment cardiac health. Likewise, a spectrum of fruits and vegetables are laden with phytonutrients and antioxidants that are valuable in safeguarding against several health maladies.
Functional Foods Sources
These foods are typically categorised into conventional and modified.
Conventional foods are natural, whole foods that are abundant in vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats.
Modified foods are those that are fortified with additional components like vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fibre to supplement food’s health benefits.
Conventional Functional Food Sources Include:
Berries, kiwi, pears, peaches, apples, oranges, bananas
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, zucchini
Almonds, cashews, pistachios,
Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds
Black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, lentils
Oats, barley, buckwheat, brown rice,
Salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, cod
Tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut
Herbs and Spices:
Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper
Green tea, black tea, coffee
Modified Functional Food Sources Include:
Fortified dairy products, such as milk and yogurt
Fortified dairy substitutes like almond, rice, coconut, and cashew milk
Fortified grains, such as bread and pasta
Fortified cereal and granola
Health Benefits Of Functional Foods
Lowers Risk of Nutritional Deficiencies
Functional foods are bestowed with essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre. Including a rich array of functional foods in the regular diet regimen support meeting the nutrient demands and safeguards the body against nutrient deficiencies.
In fact, with the introduction of fortified foods, the incidence of malnutrition and nutritional deficiency has been remarkably decreased across the world. Fortification of essential nutrients with staple food elements has significantly prevented health conditions caused due to nutrient deficiencies including anaemia, rickets, goitre and birth defects
Safeguard Against Diseases
Functional foods confer the human body with certain vital nutrients that help shield against chronic diseases. Most of these foods are a powerhouse of antioxidants, that help neutralize free radicals from damaging healthy cells and avert the risk of chronic disorders such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. A few functional foods are heaped with omega 3 fatty acids that are best known to lessen inflammation, enhance brain function and uplift cardiac health. Further, other kinds of foods rich in fibre support to manage diabetes and protect against conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and gastrointestinal disorders.
Promotes Growth And Development
Well, certain nutrients are crucial for proper growth and development in infants and children. Adding a rich array of nutrient-dense functional foods as part of a wholesome meal plan can guarantee that increasing nutritional demands are met. Further, certain functional foods that are supplemented with nutrients that are pivotal for growth and development.
Cereals, whole grains, and flours are mostly fortified with folic acid, which is a vital nutrient for normal fetal growth. Also, omega 3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B 12 present in functional foods play a crucial role in normal growth and development.
- Promotes gut microbe by offering live microbial cultures(probiotics) and thus bolstering the immune system.
- Provides prebiotics that supports to feed probiotics.
- Lowers the attack of pathogenic bacteria and microbes.
- Neutralizes the negative impacts of stress by providing B vitamins, magnesium, and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Safeguard the brain cells from free radical damage, boosts mental health and cognitive functions
- Help in cleansing the system, shed surplus kilos, and managing weight.
- Maintains normal lipid profile and blood pressure, as well as controlling normal heart rhythms.
- Supports in building and maintaining bone density by lowering acidity and alkalizing the body.
Functional foods are a type of food linked with umpteen number of health benefits. Right from preventing nutrient deficiencies to promoting normal growth and development. Thus, adding these natural whole and fortified foods as part of a balanced meal plan can immensely help to meet any nutritional gap and boost overall health and well-being.