Functional ingredients refer to food components that offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition when consumed as part of a regular diet. They can help support metabolic and physiological functions and reduce the risk of diseases. With growing consumer awareness about wellness, food companies are increasingly incorporating functional ingredients in their product formulations. This article discusses some important functional ingredients that are commonly found in foods and beverages along with their associated health benefits.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Some common prebiotic Functional Ingredients include inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). Prebiotics selectively promote the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the colon. A healthy balance of gut microflora is linked to various health advantages like improved digestion, calcium absorption, and lower risks of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and infections. Foods containing prebiotics include whole grains, legumes, onion, garlic, asparagus, and certain cereals. Food companies now offer prebiotic-fortified snacks, bread, milk, and yogurt to support digestive and immune health.
Probiotics refer to live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts provide health benefits. The most common probiotic bacteria found in foods are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species. Regular consumption of probiotics is associated with various advantages like improved gastrointestinal function, enhanced resistance against pathogens, reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and enhanced immunity. Fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir are natural sources of probiotics. These days, probiotic-fortified juices, snacks, supplements and even chocolate are available to provide targeted gut and overall health benefits through everyday diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) obtained from plant and marine sources have numerous health-promoting qualities. These include reducing inflammation, lowering triglyceride levels, managing blood pressure, and protecting heart health. Rich food sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines; flaxseeds; walnuts; soybean and canola oils. Food companies add omega-3s like DHA and EPA to products like milk, yogurt, juices, cereal, and bread to improve their nutrition profile and meet the rising demand for functional ingredients. The target is also to address the gap between recommended and actual intake of omega-3s in daily diet.
Plant Sterols and Stanols
Plant sterols and stanols are compounds that are structurally similar to cholesterol but have the ability to reduce its absorption in the gut. This cholesterol-lowering property helps manage blood lipids and mitigate cardiovascular risk factors. The primary food sources of plant sterols are vegetable oils like corn, soybean, and canola oils. Additionally, sterol- and stanol-enriched margarines, yogurts, juices and other products have become popular. FDA allows adding up to 2 grams of sterols/stanols per serving in various foods and beverages to promote heart health. With lifestyle-related diseases on rise, functional ingredients delivering specific health outcomes are gaining ground over routine snacks and drinks.
Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells from damage by reactive oxygen species called free radicals. They play an important role in chronic disease prevention. Common dietary antioxidants include vitamins C and E, polyphenols like catechins from tea, anthocyanins from berries, resveratrol from grapes, and lycopene from tomatoes. Consumption of antioxidant-rich foods is linked to reduced cancer, heart disease, age-related macular degeneration risks. Food processing may lower antioxidant levels, so companies fortify cereals, snacks, juices with antioxidants for enhanced health attributes. Some innovation involves developing antioxidant-enriched foods to cater different dietary requirements and preferences.
Foods with Digestive Health Benefits
Proper digestive health is key for overall wellness. Many functional ingredients directly or indirectly influence the digestive system. For example, prebiotics and probiotics maintain a balanced gut microbiota flora. Peppermint, ginger, and unsweetened cranberry juice aid in relieving digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome, gastric discomfort, and constipation. Protein-rich foods support digestive enzymes and hormone production. Foods containing soluble fiber like oats, legumes, and barley promote regularity and nutrient absorption. With the pandemic emphasizing immunity, gut health has emerged as an important factor driving sales of functional foods globally. Food companies leverage different formulations for digestive wellness-oriented dietary patterns.
Functional ingredients in product formulations allows food companies to deliver specific wellness benefits. With rising health consciousness, the demand for nutrient-dense, value-added foods is on an upsurge. Innovation of functional ingredients paves the way for personalized, preventive nutrition approaches. Regular intake of foods containing prebiotics, probiotics, plant sterols, antioxidants or with digestive benefits as part of a balanced diet can promote overall health andwell-being. As science brings more functional components to light, their applications in foods are set to grow further in the coming years.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it