What Are Functional Foods? Everything You Need To Know About Them

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In this article, we’re going to explain what are functional foods, what are functional foods benefits, and how to add them to our diets.

Our body is the most intricate, wonderful machine that is ever created in the world, and food is its fuel. There are some whole foods, commonly known as functional foods that do much more than meeting basic nutritional needs. 

These foods help reduces the risk of major chronic diseases, boost metabolism, improve nutrient absorption, and help with digestion which in turn leads to losing weight.

The article will lay out the basics of functional foods and help you optimize your diet with these miracles of nature along with some of the best functional foods and their benefits.

What Are functional foods?

While there is no standard set to judge whether a certain food source is a functional food or not, most consider functional foods to be foods that offer exceptional health benefits that are beyond their basic nutrients.

The majority of functional foods are vegetables, berries, spices, and herbs. However, they are not restricted to a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Some foods that are sourced from animals such as salmon and beef liver are also regarded as functional foods due to their high nutrient content.

Here are some of the best functional foods out there:

  1. Green foods: Sea vegetables and grasses including chlorella, spirulina, barley grass contain phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins and some of these ingredients are hard to obtain from other plant foods.
  2. High-antioxidant foods: Bright-colored fruits & vegetables such as berries and leafy greens, papaya, bell peppers, oranges, cruciferous veggies such as sweet potatoes and carrots contain high amounts of antioxidants that support cellular health and help deal with oxidative stress.
  3. Nuts and seeds: Nuts provide higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, minerals, and vitamin E. Nuts help in weight loss, help in diabetes management, and protect the heart. Nuts and seeds help in reducing inflammation (if the person is not allergic to nuts), decrease risks of cancer and chronic health illness, and support brain health. Walnuts in particular are known to support brain and heart health and are proved to reduce cancer risks.
  4. Probiotic foods: These are live cultures that are known as good bacteria that help improve gut health. Although probiotic foods are not supplemented in pills, they naturally occur in several function foods such as yogurt, kefir, aged cheese, kimchi, miso, and cultured non-dairy yogurts like milk-based yogurt alternative products. 
  5. Teas, spices, and herbs: Black tea, turmeric, green tea, parsley, ginger, and cinnamon are known for their amount of antioxidant content. Moreover, fresh herbs and spices add flavor to the meal without adding calories. Moreover, they have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Dark chocolate, red wine, cocoa, and coffee are considered functional foods due to their phytonutrients.

Benefits of Functional Foods

Now that we know which foods can be regarded as the best functional foods, let’s dig deeper into the benefits of functional foods.

Functional foods have several health benefits only if they are part of a balanced diet and come from responsible sources.

Their consumption as a part of a varied diet can have a profound effect on overall health.

☝ For complete benefit, functional foods should be consumed in their whole form when possible. Other health benefits of functional foods include:

  • Good source of antioxidants such as flavonoids, anthocyanin, carotenoids, lycopene, and polyphenols that help fight free radical damage which supports cognitive health.
  • Aid in chronic disease prevention by reducing risks of cancer, neurological conditions, depression, and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Provide live microbial cultures called probiotic bacteria.
  • Reduce pathogenic bacteria and microbes.
  • Help balance blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and regulating heartbeats.
  • Aid in nutrient absorption.
  • Help in weight management and reduce obesity.

How to Add Functional Foods to Your Diet

While the demand for supplements that come in form of pills has increased, consumption of foods in their natural form helps improve health in the long run.

Thus, dieticians urge to include functional foods in their diet, which has boosted the demand for functional foods across the globe.

According to Allied Market Research, the global functional food market is expected to reach $267.92 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 6.7% from 2021 to 2027.

Here are some tips about how to add functional foods to your diet:

  • Consider choosing plant foods over animal products to get enough fiber, electrolytes, and antioxidants. A balanced diet includes equal amounts of healthy fats and protein but ensures that your plate at every meal consists of fresh plant foods.
  • Eliminate consumption of trans fats, refined vegetable oils such as canola oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil) and include healthy fats that come from coconut oil, avocado oil, real olive oil, and grass-fed butter or ghee.
  • If you insist on eating animal products, focus on their quality. Be sure to purchase grass-fed or pasture-raised foods. These tend to have higher nutrients such as omega-3s and other fatty acids.

Another great rule of thumb is to try and obtain nutrients from naturally occurring sources.

If you aim to try functional foods to improve your health, choose wisely. More importantly, even though functional foods offer multiple health benefits, they cannot make up for poor eating choices and habits.

Make sure you follow your health regime and exercise regularly. 

Final Words

Functional foods come primarily from vegan sources – such as plants and fruits. Adding them to your diet will help you become healthier and live a better life.

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About Author

Swamini Kulkarni
Swamini Kulkarni

Swamini Kulkarni holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and works as a content writer. She is deeply fascinated by technological advancements and the trending topic in the world. When she is not glued to the computer, she loves to read, travel, and spend time thinking about how she could read and travel more often.

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