What are functional foods?
Find out all about the foods that could change your habits for the better.
'Functional foods' is a term used to characterize foods with specific nutritional properties that are beneficial to our health, with a high concentration of certain nutrients. These are foods that go beyond basic nutritional functions. However, we must remember that it is important to practice a healthy and balanced diet, combining these foods with healthy foods that are already part of our routine.
The benefits of functional foods
We are all familiar with the food wheel, and what we should consume daily to maintain a healthy diet. Functional foods are also part of this wheel, as they have a composition rich in nutrients and compounds that will help, transform and invigorate our organism, providing a much higher quality of life for those who consume them.
It is possible to find nutrients that are beneficial for the hair, others for the skin, others to regulate the hormonal system or even to help lower “bad” cholesterol. Each superfood has varying nutritional properties, but they are generally associated with:
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Strengthen the immune system
- Prevent diseases such as cancer
- Reduce “bad” cholesterol
The high vitamin and mineral content of functional foods can help our body avoid diseases and keep it healthier. If these are incorporated into a balanced diet, they can even help you lose weight, improve energy levels and reduce the effects of aging.
Antioxidants found in various functional foods protect our cells and can help prevent diseases such as cancer, while healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Fiber can help prevent diabetes and digestive problems, as well as contributing to the reduction of “bad” cholesterol, while some phytochemicals can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Some functional foods have a high content of essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron and others, which help our body to perform and function better. As well as vitamins, which you can obtain from these natural foods, without resorting to supplements. Superfoods are also known to protect our organs from toxins, regulating metabolism and reducing inflammation.
What is the advantage of functional foods compared to dietary supplements?
The consumption of nutrients through food provides a much greater bioavailability of them, compared to taking vitamin supplements and others. This means that our body will absorb these nutrients in a much more natural and efficient way.
Do you know the functions of the 6 essential nutrients for our body?
All the foods we eat contain nutrients, which are substances needed by our body to perform basic functions. These have at least one of the following basic functions: contributing to the structure of our body, providing energy and/or regulating the chemical processes in our body. There are 6 types of nutrients necessary for our health:
- Protein: necessary for the composition of the body's tissues, cell repair and production of hormones and enzymes. It is also essential for building strong muscles and strengthening the immune system. Foods rich in protein: foods of animal origin and legumes such as beans, soybeans, lentils, peas and nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
- Carbohydrates: main sources of energy or fiber for our body. They are essential for the functioning of the brain, nervous system, muscles and almost all other organs. Foods rich in carbohydrates: bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, wholemeal flour, rice, fruits, honey and jams.
- Lipids: act in the body as energy reserves. Depending on the groups to which they belong, lipids have several functions, one of the most important of which is the formation of hormones and the constitution of cell membranes. They are also important for the transmission of nerve impulses, to strengthen our immune system, to maintain body temperature and to isolate/protect vital organs. Foods rich in lipids: oils, butter, olive oil, nuts and nuts.
- Vitamins: these act on the metabolic processes of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, and can be soluble in fats or water. They regulate body processes and promote the basic functions of our body.
- Minerals: like vitamins, they regulate basic bodily functions and are necessary for adequate cellular function. The main minerals that are part of metabolism are supplied through a healthy diet. These are: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, among others.
- Water: not only is it essential for life, it also transports nutrients to all parts of the body, eliminates waste, and helps control body temperature.
Did you know that you can consume vegetable protein in your daily life?
It is increasingly recommended to reduce the consumption of protein of animal origin, and it is important to correctly replace it with vegetable protein in our daily “menu”. You can easily find the following sources of vegetable protein: hemp seeds, beans, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, oats, oilseeds such as almonds, among others. In addition to being foods that are easily found and cooked, there are thousands of recipes where you can use them and create delicious meals.
The most common concerns and functional foods that can solve them
We don't realize it, but we probably include functional foods in our diet every day.
After the pandemic, there is increasing concern about our immune system. And there is a way to strengthen it through food! Citrus fruits, broccoli, almonds, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes and beans are foods rich in vitamins A, C and E, essential for strengthening and maintaining our immune system.
Foods such as tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds, turmeric, oats, barley, beans, lentils and cocoa, as they have a low glycemic index, can help keep blood sugar levels under control, preventing complications such as the onset of diabetes.
It is very important to maintain a balanced diet and there are foods that can even help with weight loss. Spinach, watermelon, tomatoes, chia and flax seeds, apples, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, dark chocolate, oats, as they are rich in vitamin C and Omega-3, can help reduce appetite and hunger levels, building mass muscle and helping with weight loss.
We know that “bad” cholesterol is also a concern, and diet is crucial to prevent cholesterol levels from rising, making our body vulnerable to cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet, rich in spinach, apples, avocados, beans, cashews, goji berries, can help reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and increase “good” cholesterol levels, as they are foods rich in fat monounsaturated and fibers.
Hypertension is a serious medical condition that affects more and more people. Did you know that you can control this disease or even prevent it through diet? Consuming superfoods rich in potassium, magnesium and fiber can help reduce and prevent this risk to your health. Some examples of superfoods are: bananas, beets, dark chocolate, kiwis, oats, watermelon, garlic and cinnamon.
Lentils, baobab and oats
Lentils are known for their high content of fiber, iron, vitamins and vegetable protein. They are recommended for those looking to gain lean muscle mass, and to help with wound healing.
Baobab, having a high vitamin C content, is essential for strengthening immunity and combating signs of aging. And due to its calcium, potassium and magnesium content, it also contributes to reducing muscle fatigue and strengthening bones.
Sprouted oats are a source of fiber, vitamins and proteins that support intestinal health and weight control.
Hemp and maca seeds
Hemp seeds, as they are rich in fatty acids and Omega-3 and 6 (in an ideal ratio of 1:3), and because they contain high levels of vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, iron and magnesium, contribute to cardiovascular health and for muscle maintenance and recovery.
Maca is known for being extremely nutritious, and for being an excellent source for increasing libido and fertility, acting at a hormonal level.
Lucuma and spirulina
Lucuma has a high content of vitamin C, phenolic compounds and carotenoids, and due to its antioxidant action, it contributes to strengthening the immune system.
Spirulina contains a high level of vitamin B12, proteins, antioxidants, iron and Omega-6, giving it antimicrobial action, which also works on intestinal health and cholesterol.
In short, it is crucial that we adopt a healthy and balanced lifestyle and diet, always including essential nutrients for our body. No food provides everything our body needs, which is why it is important to consume a wide variety of nutrient-rich functional foods to obtain the health benefits we need.