May 21, 2024
Functional Ingredients

Functional Ingredients: Beyond Basic Nutrition

The food and beverage industry has seen a rising demand for products providing additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. This has led to increased focus on developing foods with functional ingredients that can potentially provide specific health advantages.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts provide health benefits. Probiotics are mostly bacteria that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut. Foods containing probiotic cultures like certain yogurts and fermented drinks have shown promise in promoting digestive and immune health.

Importance of Probiotics
Probiotics support a healthy balance of microorganisms in the digestive tract. An imbalance or lack of beneficial gut bacteria has been linked to various issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Regular consumption of probiotic foods may help relieve symptoms in some individuals with these conditions. Probiotics may also play a role in maintaining a strong immune response against pathogens. More research is ongoing to better understand their wide-ranging health impacts.

While probiotics provide live microorganisms, prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that act as food for the beneficial bacteria in our digestive system. Common prebiotic fibers include inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). Foods containing prebiotics allow the growth and proliferation of healthy gut microflora.

Role of Prebiotics
By feeding the probiotic bacteria in our gut, prebiotics help support a balanced microbiome which is key for overall wellness. Prebiotics have shown positive effects on issues like constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation as well as obesity and metabolic syndrome. They may also influence immune function and mineral absorption. More foods and beverages are now utilizing prebiotic fibers to offer these additional gut health benefits.

Plant-Based Proteins
With growing demand for plant-based options, protein-rich Functional Ingredients derived from vegetable sources are gaining ground. Soy, wheat, pea and rice proteins are increasingly being utilized as functional ingredients in foods requiring protein functionality.

Benefits of Plant Proteins
Compared to animal proteins, plant-based versions are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol while being rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Soy and pea protein in particular resemble animal proteins in their amino acid profile and ability to enhance muscle growth and maintenance. They provide an excellent alternative for vegetarians and flexitarians looking to minimize meat consumption. Plant proteins also reduce the environmental footprint of protein production compared to animal sources.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are considered essential fatty acids that need to be obtained through diet. Good dietary sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans. They are increasingly being added to various foods as functional ingredients.

Health Benefits of Omega-3s
Many studies have linked higher omega-3 intake to benefits like reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and cognitive decline. EPA and DHA are important structural components of brain and retina tissues. Regular omega-3 consumption through diet or supplements may also alleviate inflammation, support mental well-being and aid healthy growth and development in children. Higher availability of these fatty acids has led to their widespread inclusion in foods, beverages, supplements and infant formulas.

Plant-Based Alternatives

Rising demand for plant-based alternatives has pushed development of vegetarian options across many industries including food. Plant-based milks made from nuts, grains, seeds or legumes now offer dairy-free milk alternatives. Plant-based meat products utilizing soy, wheat or pea protein are designed to resemble the taste and texture of chicken, beef and pork. Their appeal is centered on sustainability, ethical and health concerns with conventional meat production.

Nutritional Adequacy
With creative formulations, plant-based milks, yogurts and meats can provide comparable protein and vitamin/mineral content to their conventional counterparts. However, the overall nutritional profile needs to be carefully considered. For example, plant waters may lack some nutrients like calcium and vitamins D and B12 found naturally in dairy. Supplementation may then be required depending on individual diets and lifestyles. Continued innovation is making these alternatives more tasty and nutritionally dense options.

With evolving health priorities, functional ingredients providing targeted wellness benefits have become table stakes for consumer products. From digestive to cardiovascular and cognitive health, these ingredients go beyond basic nutrition to address specific health areas. As science deepens understanding of links between diet and disease, use of functional ingredients is expected to grow. Food and beverage developers will continue exploring new plant, microbe and nutrient-based options to meet the demands of health-focused consumers.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it