What do the most common functional ingredients provide?

One can hear words like: genetically modified food, active bifidus, phytosterols, omega 3 acids or prebiotics, etc. more and more often, but it is often difficult for consumers to understand what benefits they offer.

In today’s society, one of the first concerns is health in a broader sense, and not only about our interior, but also about our external appearance.

We take better care of ourselves than we did decades ago and are fully involved in treatments recommended by experts. One of the fundamental problems is excess body weight, for which society uses miracle diets, vigorexia and adequate exercise; and everything related to food.

We’ve all heard of calories, carbohydrates, fats or proteins, but lately new terms have been popping up on the food scene and doubts are being raised. The media uses difficult-to-understand terms such as genetically modified food, active bifidus, phytosterols, omega 3 acids or prebiotics. In addition, industrially processed food includes preservatives, sweeteners, acidifiers, etc. as necessary and essential elements of regular consumption and which affect – most often negatively – our health.

These new “functional” foods must follow strict health standards and contain precise information so you know what you’re buying. The law has been in place for years, but it must be adapted to the new situation and cover substances that are added to food products. Consumers also have the right to know the real benefits (related to intestinal flora, contribution of natural estrogens, reduction of cholesterol absorption, etc.), because health starts with what we eat. The most common are:


They improve the action of intestinal bacteria as well as the absorption of calcium at that level; They have immunological effects and “protect against cancer”. No serious adverse effects of its consumption have been described, although the amount that should be consumed daily is not clear either.


Live microorganisms that adapt to the large intestine, improve the activity of the intestinal flora and the immune system. They are usually added to dairy products because they facilitate their intake. There are no specific studies on the amount that can be consumed within safe limits.


They are added to dairy products, most often yogurts. They are microorganisms from the lactobacillus group, common in normal intestinal flora, dedicated to the synthesis and absorption of enzymes that metabolize lactose and vitamins essential for health. There is also no concrete data on the harmful effects due to excessive consumption.

There are already preventive tips that refer to not giving young children drinks rich in these compounds on a daily basis. It is necessary to rationalize its consumption and not abuse its benefits, since the risk-benefit ratio is not exactly known.


Present in a large number of products, from yogurt to biscuits. Their function is to block the absorption of cholesterol at the intestinal level, which is why they are recommended both for weight loss and for avoiding high levels of this compound in the blood. The amount taken in must be controlled because its excess reduces the absorption of compounds essential for the proper functioning of the body (for example, some vitamins).


Especially in fortified milk. Its activity is related to stimulating metabolism to reduce body fat and promote weight loss. Since it acts at the level of the liver, an excess can cause problems in this organ and the pancreas; It is also associated with an increase in blood pressure.


For single use (in the form of tablets for oral administration or local gel for areas that are shrinking) or as an addition to certain foods for weight loss and as an aid in diets. Its action is similar to the previous one and breaks down accumulated fat, for example in the case of cellulite.

Newly created sweeteners

Compounds that sweeten food and replace common and classic sugar (saccharin or aspartame). They include genetically modified starch, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol,… which are used in a large number of foods and are considered low-calorie. Excessive consumption is harmful to health, and to say the least, they are laxatives.


Natural estrogens that reduce the consequences of menopause, do not introduce cholesterol into the diet, have antioxidant and antitumor properties, as well as action at the bone level in the prevention of osteoporosis. Its consumption is common among people who are allergic to lactose, since milk prepared with this vegetable is recommended for intolerant people as a substitute for cow’s milk. It is associated with a certain type of breast cancer, so it should not be consumed lightly.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Present in nuts, fatty fish and vegetables such as Swiss chard. They increase the work of the brain and protect the cardiovascular level. Adequate nutrition guarantees the minimum daily intake recommended by the WHO, although they are currently added to dairy products to improve consumer health.

In conclusion

It is necessary to read the labels of what we buy in order to know what we are eating. If you are in doubt, consult a doctor or pharmacist about the practicality of consuming these products because they interfere with our health. A complete and balanced diet is the best way to stay in perfect shape.


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