functional foods

Functional foods are foods which, together with their components, provide health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition.

Besides providing basic daily nutritional requirements, functional foods protect the body from possible diseases while promoting good health. These foods have active components that are responsible for their nutritional and physiological effects in the body.

The most typical example of functional foods may include whole foods such as vegetables and fruits. Others include foods that have been fortified or enhanced with nutrients, botanicals, and phytochemicals. Dietary supplements also fall under the class of functional foods.

The discovery of attributes of the active components of functional foods is still an ongoing process.

Examples of these active compounds include phytoestrogens that are found in soybeans and the lycopene in tomatoes. Studies that are focused on disease prevention and treatment are also discovering new compounds under the class of functional foods.

The Demand For Functional Foods

Demand for functional foods has been on the rise due to consumer interest in the link between diet and health.

Other factors fueling the increase in demand for functional foods include the growth in the cost of health-care, individual interest in living a healthy life, and the aging population interested in finding a diet that will help them retain optimal health longer. Credible evidence from scientific research has revealed many potential benefits that can be gained from functional foods.

Examples Of Functional Foods Components And Their Benefits

1. Beta-carotene

The sources for beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, spinach, and carrots. The potential benefit of this functional food component includes neutralizing the free radicals that may lead to harmful effects on the body.

Beta-carotene has been shown to boost cellular antioxidant defense and it can be made into vitamin A in the body.

2. Zeaxanthin

Also known as lutein, zeaxanthin can be obtained from various food sources such as citrus fruits, asparagus, carrots, kale, and broccoli, among others.

The potential benefit of this food component involves support and maintenance of eyesight.

3. Lycopene

The primary source of lycopene is tomatoes and its processed products. Other sources include watermelon and the red or pink grapefruit.

Its benefit in the body includes maintenance of the prostate health. The food component can help in the prevention of prostate cancer.

4. Insoluble Fiber

Insoluble fiber can be obtained from food sources such as wheat bran, corn bran, and fruit skins. The dietary fiber supports the health of the gastrointestinal tract. It is also known to prevent the occurrence of certain types of cancers.

Dietary fibers can be best taken by adding a small quantity of dry wheat bran when preparing smoothies to help in bulking up the fiber content.

5. Beta Glucan

Beta glucan can be gotten from food sources such as oatmeal, oat flour, oat bran, and barley. Beta glucan has the potential benefits of reducing the risks associated with coronary heart disease.

Beta glucan is also known to control the concentration of blood sugar in diabetic individuals. Evidence suggests that the food component can boost the function of the immune system against diseases.

6. Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber is thought to reduce the risks associated with the development of coronary heart disease. The functional food component also helps in the prevention of various types of cancers in the body.

Soluble fiber can be taken through the addition of canned beans to a regular meal. They can be layered in quesadillas or added to an omelet.

7. Whole Grains

This functional food component has been shown to lower the risks associated with certain types of cancers.

The food component may also help in dealing with the coronary heart disease. Whole grains have also been shown to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar concentration.

8. Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

These fall into the class of fatty acids. Sources for Monosaturated fatty acids include tree nuts, canola oil, and olive oil.

The potential uses of Monosaturated fatty acids include minimizing the risks associated with coronary heart disease.

9. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids/Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These are acquired from tuna, salmon, mackerel, and marine fish oils. The component has been shown to lower the risks associated with coronary heart disease. It also helps in maintaining eye health and mental function.

10. Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Common sources include beef and lamb. Cheese may also provide the body with conjugated linoleic acid. The component helps the body by maintaining its desirable composition and the immune health.

11. Vitamins

Vitamin A is one of the standard functional food components under the class of vitamins. It can be sourced from food sources such as carrots, milk, eggs, and sweet potatoes. Vitamin A helps in maintaining eyesight. It also boosts the immune system as well as the bone health.

Another set of vitamins include the B complex vitamins. They include thiamine, also known vitamin B1. It can be acquired from lentils and brown or enriched white rice. Thiamine has various health benefits, including regulation of the metabolism processes in the body.

Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, helps to support the growth of body cells and regulation of the metabolic process. It can be acquired from lean meats, eggs, and dairy products.

Niacin, or vitamin B3, supports the growth of cells and takes part in metabolism regulation. Foods high in niacin include poultry, fish, and dairy products.

Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, regulates hormone synthesis in the body. It also regulates metabolic processes. The vitamin can be acquired from various food sources such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, and organ meats, among others.

Other functional component vitamins include pyridoxine (vitamin B6), folate or folic acid, and cobalamin (vitamin B12).

The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and E, which have antioxidant activities in the body. Vitamin D reduces the risks associated with osteoporosis by maintaining bone health.

12. Probiotics

Under the class of probiotics, there are yeast, Lactobacilli, Bifidobacterium, and other strains of helpful bacteria the help to maintain the balance of gut flora. They are acquired from certain types of yogurts and other dairy products. They function by boosting the immune system.

13. Minerals

These include calcium, magnesium, selenium, and potassium. They can be sourced from various foods that include leafy vegetables, seeds, dairy products, and fish. They play different roles in the body, such as maintaining bone health and supporting normal functions of the neuromuscular system.

Functional Foods Conclusion

The best way to get the maximum benefits of functional foods is through a well-balanced diet consisting of whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and legumes. It is advisable to do some research before deciding on making any dietary changes.

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