Food and Nutrition

Functional Foods

Functional foods- Food containing health giving additives

A food which gives an additional function often related to health promotion or disease prevention by adding new ingredients or more of existing ingredients is functional food.

As defined by Functional Food Center (FFC) “Natural or processed foods that contain known or unknown biological active compounds”.

National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board defined functional foods as “any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains”.

International Life Sciences Institute defines them as “foods that, by virtue of the presence of physiologically-active components, provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition”.

They are whole, fortified, enhanced or enriched foods which provide health benefits beyond the provision of essential nutrients (such as Vitamins and Minerals) when consumed at efficacious level as part of varied diet on regular basis.

All foods are functional to some extent as all of them provides taste, aroma and nutritive value. They do not have universally accepted definition. The concept was first developed in 1980s when Japan faced escalating health care costs, Ministry of Health and Welfare initiated regulatory system to approve certain foods with documented health benefits in hopes of improving health of nations aging population. Later it spread to North Europe, North America, and also affluent consumer markets.

The European Union, introduced a regulation on the use of nutrition and health claims for such foods in December 2006.

These are foods which have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods say they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease.

An example of a functional food is oatmeal because it contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. Some foods are modified to have health benefits. An example is orange juice that’s been fortified with calcium for bone health.

Functional foods include:

  • Conventional foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.
  • Modified foods such as yogurt, cereals and orange juice.
  • Foods for special dietary use such as infant formula and hypoallergenic foods.
  • Medical foods such as special formulations of foods and beverages for certain health conditions.

Cold-Water Fish (Sardines and Salmon), Berries, Nuts are some examples of functional foods.


Functional food of animal origin

Probably the most intensively investigated class of physiologically-active components derived from animal products are the (n-3) fatty acids, predominantly found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. The two primary (n-3) fatty acids are Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6). DHA is an essential component of the phospholipids of cellular membranes, especially in the brain and retina of the eye, and is necessary for their proper functioning. DHA is particularly important for the development of these two organs in infants

Another class of biologically active animal-derived components that has received increasing attention in recent years is probiotics. Defined as “viable microorganisms that are beneficial to human health.


Functional food of plant origin

Numerous plant foods or physiologically active ingredients derived from plants have been investigated for their role in disease prevention and health. However, only a small number of these have had substantive clinical documentation of their health benefits. An even smaller number have surpassed the rigorous standard of “significant scientific agreement” required by the FDA for authorization of a health claim.

Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used for thousands of years for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. It has been shown to have a modest blood pressure–lowering effect, ability to inhibit the activity of Helicobacter pylori.

Cranberries have been recognized for their efficacy in treating urinary tract infections. Those plant foods currently eligible to bear an FDA-approved health claim include oat soluble (β-glucan) fiber, soluble fiber from psyllium seed husk, soy protein and sterol- and stanol-ester-fortified margarine.

Oats, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Wines and Grapes etc. are some of the examples of functional foods from plant origin.


Functional foods containing physiologically-active components, either from plant or animal sources, may enhance health. Health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking functional foods in an effort to control their own health and well-being.


Fortified foods
Fortified foods are foods that have nutrients added to them to boost the levels that are naturally present or to restore nutrients lost during processing. For example, a number of vitamins and minerals are added to white bread by law as they are removed when the wheat is milled to make flour.


Examples of functional foods

Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms – mostly bacteria – which when taken in adequate amounts confer a health benefit.

Prebiotics promote the growth of particular bacteria in the large intestine that are beneficial to intestinal health and also inhibit the growth of bacteria that are potentially harmful to intestinal health.

Stanols and sterols, which occur naturally in small amounts in plants and fruits, are thought to have a cholesterol lowering effect and are added to products such as reduced/low fat spreads.

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