Home Ingredient Functional Food Ingredients: Sources, Benefits, and Consumer Trends

Functional Food Ingredients: Sources, Benefits, and Consumer Trends

by Food Drinks Innovation

A functional ingredient is a bioactive compound that can be used in the manufacture of functional food products. These bioactive compounds can be obtained from a variety of sources such as primary produce, marine sources, microorganisms and inorganic raw materials. Functional ingredients may also be derived from food processing waste providing additional economic benefits to food businesses. Many of these functional ingredients can also be used for the preparation of nutraceuticals. Separation, purification and concentration techniques are often used to recover these compounds. The methods selected are dependent on the nature and economic value of the target compound(s) and the chemical and/or biological structure from which it was sourced. Traditional techniques that have been used include solvent and waterbased extraction, followed by filtration, and then distillation, evaporation, crystallisation or precipitation. However, techniques such as supercritical CO2 fluid extraction, low-polarity-based extraction, membrane-based and molecular distillation are being used more frequently. These alternative techniques have several advantages in that they can be more efficient and more cost effective. In addition, there is also increasing concern regarding the use of solvents that, despite being food grade, can leave chemical residues. Considering the health conscience target market, these cleaner technologies are considered attractive – particularly as they reduce the use of solvents.

Functional food ingredients have emerged as a pivotal component in the quest for healthier and more nutritionally enriched dietary options. These ingredients offer more than just basic nutrition; they provide specific health benefits beyond their traditional roles. In this article, we will explore the sources and benefits of functional food ingredients, examine consumer trends, and discuss the future growth and challenges associated with this burgeoning industry.
Veganism has shown remarkable growth over the last couple of years. It is further projected to increase, and consumer demand is projected to shift to plant-based meat and dairy products. The current outbreak of COVID-19 and negative associations with animal-based foods will further shift the consumers to plant-based ingredients. Since a large number of protein ingredients have entered the market for food products, it is further projected to increase. Due to COVID-19, sustainability, low-carbon footprint, and positive health effects offered by plant-based ingredients such as pea protein, pea starch, antioxidants from Brussel sprouts, polyphenols from fig and omega-3, and other functional ingredients from hemp will enable plant-based ingredients to take further precedence over animal-based food. This will further drive revenues and investments in plant-sourced ingredients.

Sources of Functional Food Ingredients:
Functional food ingredients are derived from various natural sources, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, herbs, and even certain animal products. The following are some key sources of functional food ingredients:

Fruits and Vegetables: Many fruits and vegetables contain bioactive compounds such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and phytochemicals. These compounds contribute to the potential health benefits of functional foods.
Whole Grains: Whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice, are rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They can enhance the nutritional profile of functional foods, promoting digestive health and providing sustained energy.
Probiotics and Prebiotics: Derived from fermented foods, probiotics are beneficial bacteria that promote gut health. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibers that support the growth of these beneficial bacteria. Both are vital functional ingredients for digestive well-being.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Sourced from fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts, omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and are commonly included in functional foods to support heart and brain health.

Benefits of Functional Food Ingredients:
The incorporation of functional food ingredients into the diet can yield a multitude of health benefits. Some common advantages include:

Improved Digestive Health: Probiotics and prebiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, aiding digestion and nutrient absorption.
Heart Health: Functional ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber contribute to lower cholesterol levels and improved cardiovascular health.
Antioxidant Protection: Many fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and supporting overall well-being.
Weight Management: Functional foods with high fiber content can contribute to satiety, aiding in weight management and appetite control.

Consumer Trends:
The global demand for fortified food is expanding at a robust pace. Functional food ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, hydrocolloids, prebiotics, amino acids, plant extracts, and carotenoids are the key ingredients of fortified food. The health-conscious population is rapidly expanding in emerging markets, which will drive the demand for the fortification of food. The nutritional consumption differences across regions contribute greatly to the apparent differences in the health of populations across the countries. Various factors such as increasing instances of chronic diseases and micronutrient deficiencies, growth of the middle class in emerging economies, new government fortification programs, growth of the world’s older population in regions such as Europe, and growing interest in health and wellness, owing to COVID-19, is expected to drive the sales of fortified foods, further driving the demand for functional food ingredients market.

Consumers today are increasingly prioritizing health and wellness, driving the demand for functional foods. Key trends in consumer behavior include:
Focus on Natural Ingredients: Consumers prefer functional foods with minimally processed, natural ingredients, avoiding artificial additives and preservatives.
Personalized Nutrition: There is a growing interest in personalized nutrition, with consumers seeking products tailored to their specific health needs, preferences, and dietary restrictions.
Transparency and Traceability: Consumers are more conscientious about the origins of their food. Brands that offer transparency in ingredient sourcing and production processes are gaining favor.

Future Growth and Challenges:
The future of the functional food industry looks promising, driven by increasing awareness of health and wellness. However, several challenges may shape the trajectory of this industry:

Regulatory Hurdles: The regulatory landscape for functional foods is evolving. Companies must navigate stringent regulations to ensure compliance and build consumer trust.
Educational Barriers: Overcoming consumer skepticism and ensuring a clear understanding of the benefits of functional ingredients remains a challenge. Education campaigns may be crucial to building awareness and fostering consumer confidence.
Cost Considerations: The production and incorporation of high-quality functional ingredients can be expensive, potentially leading to higher product costs. Striking a balance between affordability and quality is essential.

Functional food ingredients are at the forefront of the shift towards healthier dietary choices. As consumers increasingly seek products that provide not just sustenance but also tangible health benefits, the functional food industry is poised for significant growth. Overcoming challenges such as regulatory complexities and consumer education will be key to unlocking the full potential of this evolving sector. As the demand for functional foods continues to rise, the industry must innovate, adapt, and collaborate to meet the diverse needs of an ever-discerning consumer base.
Team Editorial

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