Functional Food


The concept originating in ancient China and transported to Japan long ago—“Medicine and food are isogonics” as well as the doctrine of Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.), “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” - has had a resurgence. The advent of up-to-date science and sophisticated technology has made it possible to recognize food as supplying us with more than nutrition. Food can even help reduce the risk of chronic lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, obesity, etc., caused by inadequate metabolic modulation, and cancer, allergies, infection diseases, etc., caused by broken body-protection systems. 

Actually the term “functional foods” was first introduced in Japan in the mid-1980s and refers to processed foods containing ingredients that aid specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious. To date, Japan is the only country that has formulated a specific regulatory approval process for functional foods. Known as Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU), these foods are eligible to bear a seal of approval from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare. In the United States and European countries functional foods are used in the different terms like nutraceuticals, designer foods, vitafoods, pharmafoods, medifoods, medicinal foods and foodicuticals. Overwhelming evidence from epidemiological, in vivo, in vitro, and clinical trial data indicates that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. 

Functional food or Nutraceutical (English: nutrition and pharmaceutical)‚ is the collective term for foods whose purpose exceeds that of merely supplying the body with energy. In other words, they not only supply the nutrients contained naturally, but are enriched with additional ingredients. The best-known examples of functional food are probably drinks and yogurts enriched with pro- or prebiotics, which are said to have a positive effect on the intestinal flora.  

Some functional components of foods have a major role in health enhancement. In fact, the big importance of these “bioactives” present in many foods, either naturally or added, has led many scientists of different fields to conduct studies aimed for establishing the scientific basis that supports and validates the benefits of a particular food or component for the human health. Functional food should not be confused with dietary supplements: While the other are usually available as tablets, powders or capsules, functional food always refers to products that can be integrated into the normal diet - such as margarine mixed with omega-3 fatty acids or bread with a very high fibre content. 

The demand for foods with a positive impact on human health and wellness has exploded globally over the past two decades. This growth is driven by socioeconomic and scientific factors, including increases in population, disposable income, life expectancy and healthcare costs. The market for healthier foods is also enhanced by advancements in our understanding of dietary bioactive ingredients and their effects on various aspects of human health at a systems and molecular level. Functional foods are connections among different disciplines, mainly: food science, nutrition, pharmacology, toxicology and manufacturing technology. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are looking for new ways to use food as medicine in a bid to help protect them against disease. As a result, the functional food market is booming. Given the shift in consumer values, the market for these kinds of foods is expected to see significant growth over the next decade, and is projected to reach $260 billion by 2027—a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.5%.  

Functional foods may be classified in various ways. From the nutritional point of view, they can be categorized like Nutrients and Non-nutrients as given below: 

  • Nutrients: Lipids, Vitamins and Minerals 
  • Non-Nutrients: Fibre, Phenolic Compounds and Non-digestible Oligosaccharides (NDO) 
  • Phytosterols 
  • Glucosinolates 
  • Carotenoids: Lutein, Cryptoxanthin 
  • Lycopene 
  • Organosulphur Compounds 

Classification based on target organs: 

  • Gastrointestinal Tract: Prebiotics(NDOs), Soluble & Insoluble Fibres, Probiotics, Polyphenols, Phytates, n-3 fatty acids, Miconutrients, etc. 
  • Cardiovascular System: n-3 fatty acids, Polyphenols, Micronutrients, Soluble fibres, etc. 
  • Immune System: Prebiotics, Probiotics, Nutrients, n-3 fatty acids, Polyphenols, etc. 
  • Skeletal System: Fructans 
  • Kidney: Fructans 

Another classification is based on origin or sources from Plants, Animals and Microbial: 

  • Microbial: Probiotics 
  • Plant: Fibres, Polyphenols, Fructans, n-3 fatty acids, Phytates, Carotenoids, Non-Glycerides in edible oils, etc. 
  • Animals: Fish oils(-L-fatty acids0, Chitosan, Conjugated Linolenic acid(Dairy products) 

In Europe, manufacturers of nutraceuticals operate in a grey area between food and pharmaceutical law. In Germany and Austria, the advertising of foods with health-related claims is prohibited. If such slogans are advertised, the products actually fall under the Medicines Act, where much stricter requirements, tests and examinations are demanded of producers.  

According to a new EU directive, health-related advertising claims must be scientifically proven, which will be verified by EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority). Producers will then have to prove that certain products actually "make children happy," "benefit health," or "increase well-being," or refrain from making such advertising claims. In the future, functional food should increasingly address individual health needs. Based on the genetic profile of the consumer, food and its ingredients are to be individually adapted to the needs (gene diet) of each client. 

As scientific and technological advances develop in the field of health and nutrition, more focus has been directed toward the emerging field of nutrigenomics, or “personalized nutrition.” The science of nutrigenomics involves the application of the human genome to nutrition and personal health to provide individual dietary recommendations. By using an individual’s unique genetic makeup and nutritional requirements to tailor recommendations, consumers may one day have a greater ability to reduce their risk of disease and optimize their health.