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Functional foods and their potential Health benefits | by Nutritionist Vasundhara Agrawal | Diet & Nutrition | Jan, 2022

Nutritionist Vasundhara Agrawal

Hey readers! Did you know that functional foods have double the benefits of normal food groups? Wondering what these functional foods are? Functional foods are those ingredients that offer health benefits beyond their nutritional value. Any foods either fortified with vitamins and minerals, probiotics, or fiber can be considered functional foods as they have added on health benefits. The concept of functional foods was originated in Japan in the 1980s and was initially known as Food for specific health uses (FOSHU). These are generally categorized into two groups, they are conventional and modified. Conventional functional foods are those that are natural like whole-food ingredients with rich vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats. Modified functional foods are those that have been fortified with additional ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, fiber, etc are added to increase food’s health benefits. The term nutraceutical is another word used to describe functional foods, phytochemicals, and nutritional supplements.

Let’s dive into the list of functional foods and their potential benefits

Fruits

Fruits like berries, kiwi, pears, peaches, apples, oranges, bananas, etc are considered to be functional foods as they are rich sources of several antioxidants present naturally. They primarily consist of flavonoids and non-flavonoid polyphenolics including phenolic acids and lignans. Soluble fibers present in the fruits may help in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Minerals play an important role in the normal functioning of cells and tissues. Banana fruit is composed of soft, easily digestible flesh made of simple sugars like fructose and sucrose that upon consumption instantly replenishes energy and revitalize the body. Plantain is extremely low in fat, high in fiber, starch antioxidants, and minerals. Apples are rich in antioxidant phytonutrients and polyphenolic compounds. These naturally present compounds are a great help to support different processes in the body.

Vegetables

Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, zucchini, carrots, etc are considered for their ability to decrease markers of lipid oxidation, increase plasma antioxidant defenses. The rich fiber content in all the vegetables can prevent any digestive-related issues and help in maintaining a healthy gut.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and legumes like black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, lentils can provide nutrition as well as prevent the risk of diseases and illness. Most of the nuts and seeds are high in good fats and dietary fiber, low in saturated fats, good sources of dietary protein, free of dietary cholesterol, rich in vitamin B1, B2, B3, and vitamins E. They help in weight management, prevent the risk of heart diseases. Including these in the daily diet is recommended as a snack or first meal of the day.

Whole-grains

It is known that cereal-based food products have been the basis of the human diet since ancient times. Whole grains like oats, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, couscous. Seafood like salmon, anchovies, mackerel, cod has the ability to enhance health beyond the simple provision of energy and nutrients. Different compounds like dietary fiber, inulin, beta-glucan, resistant starch, carotenoids, phenolics, tocotrienols, and tocopherols play a major role in disease prevention. It is mostly due to the probiotic properties of fermented foods which are considered functional foods too.

Fortified functional foods

Fortified functional foods are those that are packaged food and beverages that contain added health ingredients or nutrients. Examples include probiotics and omega- 3 oils added to yogurt and milk, and antioxidant-rich bread, cereals, and beverages. Different foods that are fortified are juices, dairy products such as milk and yogurt, milk alternatives such as almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, cashew milk. Grains such as bread, pasta, cereals, granola, and eggs.

Functional foods are a category of foods that are highly recommended to get added to your daily diet. These foods not only provide nutrition but also other health benefits as mentioned above. As these are our daily ingredients available in day-to-day life, giving them a bit of more importance and including them in our plate for every meal can help in maintaining health and wellness.

References

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/functional-foods#examples

1. What is a nutraceutical?

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306037407_FRUITS_AS_A_FUNCTIONAL_FOOD

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5427773/

https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2012/FO/C1FO10165J


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