What are functional foods?

Functional foods are those that are involved in some process within the body. They have substances, such as fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, etc., that They can provide beneficial effects in various physiological processes of the body.

These are products that are not indispensable or necessary as such. They can offer certain health benefits if they are consumed within the framework of a healthy lifestyle.

But nevertheless, They do not have the ability to cure or prevent disease. They arise from the need of the health system to reduce the incidence of certain diseases such as osteoporosis or coronary heart disease.

Methods to get a functional food

  • Remove a component that causes a detrimental effect, How can an allergenic protein be? An example would be infant milk or lactose-free milk itself
  • Increase the concentration of a naturally occurring component in a food until a certain effect occurs. For example, raise the concentration of omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Add a component not present that has a beneficial effect. This is the case of pre and probiotics.
  • Replace a component whose intake is high and may have a harmful effect, with another component that has a beneficial effect on the body. One possibility is to lower the sugar level and increase the fiber level.
  • Increase the bioavailability or stability of a compound that produces a beneficial effect or reduces the risk of disease.

Read also: Foods to improve our health

Is a functional food the same as an enriched food?

An enriched food is one that provides one or more nutrients that are known to be deficient for the general population. But nevertheless, A functional food is one that has been modified in order to have a beneficial effect on health.

Probiotics are one of the most consumed functional ingredients. They are beneficial for the body because they stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the colon.

Most used functional ingredients

  • Milk or hydrolyzed proteins.
  • Lipids of dairy origin or other origin such as omega 3 acids.
  • Probiotics, prebiotics and symbiotics. They are the most consumed functional ingredients and they are usually presented as mixtures of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selective stimulation of the growth of bacteria in the colon.
  • Dietary fiber. It consists of a plant material that resists digestion and absorption by the digestive system. It is naturally present in vegetables, legumes, fruits and cereals, and its consumption is associated with a better intestinal transit and a lower risk of developing noncommunicable diseases.
  • Calcium, royal jelly and antioxidants.

Objectives of functional foods

  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Functioning of the digestive system.
  • Maintenance of bone quality.
  • Immune system improvement.

Discover: What are phytochemicals?

Are functional foods necessary?

Although they arise from the concern of preventing certain diseases such as osteoporosis or cardiovascular pathologies, they are not essential foods. They can contribute to improving the health of the individual, but they don't suppose a breakthrough as big as the marketing He wants to sell.

Functional foods provide health benefits and are recommended for the diet. However, you have to be aware of its limitations.

Many times, the fact that an ingredient is added to a food does not mean that it is bioavailable. For example, the calcium in milk is absorbed by 30%, however, it cannot be guaranteed that the absorption is the same if calcium is added to a juice.

To answer this question, a clinical trial should be carried out with each specific product. However, its consumption is not harmful, on the contrary, it is recommended. Therefore, it may be a good idea to introduce these foods into the usual diet, but always being aware of their limitations.

Functional foods with a greater projection are those that have the presence of probiotics. More and more strains of microorganisms are studied and The importance of bacterial flora in health is better understood.

The consequences of a proper balance of microflora are, among others, a lower probability of developing complex diseases. Even in recent years, The growth of certain strains of bacteria in the colon has been linked to muscle gains.

They also represent one of the first barriers of the immune system; Therefore, it is crucial to maintain its diversity.