At the time of independence, the major emphasis was to increase the food production to feed the people, however after achieving self-sufficiency the focus shifted towards the quality of food. Food composition especially protein quality was the major concern in 1960s followed by the attention of calorie in diet in the 1970s.
Wide-spread malnutrition has attracted the attention of food producers, processors and policy makers for inclusion of micronutrient fortification as mandatory in certain staples in 1980s. In the beginning of 21st century people started viewing food from altogether different perspectives.
Some cases of cancers, coronary heart diseases (CHD), osteoporosis and many other chronic diseases, have been attributed to our diet. The missing linkage between food consumption and occurrence of increasing awareness among consumers to know which specific molecules present in their food possess disease preventive or curative properties has led to the concept of Functional Foods.
Now the attention of scientific investigations has moved towards exploring the role of biologically active components on human health. Basic temptation in human being towards nature and the products that are natural, for every little disturbances related to health resulted in flourishing of market with products containing various therapeutic ingredients.
Functional foods, pharma foods, designer foods and nutraceuticals are synonymous for foods that can prevent and treat diseases. Epidemiological studies and randomized clinical trials carried out in different parts of the world have been demonstrated or at least suggested numerous health effects related to functional food consumption, such as reduction of cancer risk, improvement of heart health, enhancement of immune functions, lowering of menopause symptoms, improvement of gastrointestinal health, anti-inflammatory effects, reduction of blood pressure, antibacterial & antiviral activities, reduction of osteoporosis.
But beyond these known nutrients i.e. vitamins, proteins, milk and milk constituents have clearly more to offer and scientists are scurrying to discover exactly which milk components might fend off specific diseases. But their exact metabolic role and how these can be utilized in designer food need to be elucidated.
All over world there has been growing demand for functional foods. Currently Japan leads the world in the production and consumption of functional foods, with more than 100 products on shelf.
Defining Functional Foods
The term functional food was first used in Japan, in the 1980s, for food products fortified with special constituents that possess advantageous physiological effects. Functional foods may improve the general conditions of the body or decreases the risk of some diseases and could even be used for curing some illnesses.
Although the term functional food has already been defined by many scientific and regulatory bodies, so far there is no universally accepted definition for this group of food. In most countries there is no legislative definition of the term and drawing a borderline between conventional and functional foods is challenging even for nutrition and food experts.
To date, a number of national authorities, academic bodies and the industry have proposed definitions for functional foods. The definitions as given by some scientific and regulatory bodies globally are given in Table 45.1. In general, functional foods have been defined as foods that, by virtue of the presence of physiologically active components, provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.
Definition of functional foods as given by various scientific and regulatory bodies
To qualify as functional food, the food should meet following conditions:
- Food (not capsule, tablet or powder) derived from naturally occurring ingredients.
- It can and should be consumed as part of daily diet.
- When ingested it has capacity to regulate or influence certain physiological processes, such as
- Improvement of biological defense mechanisms i.e. immune enhancer
- Prevention and recovery of specific disease i.e. repair of tissue injury
- Control of mental and physical conditions i.e. regulating the nervous system
- Retard the ageing process i.e. check degenerative processes
Many food items which we consume since centuries possess certain health promoting components for example whole grains like wheat, rice, barley, millets etc. provide dietary fibers that assist in regulating the bowel movements, prevent constipation and also prevent the absorption of cholesterol from Gastro-Intestinal (GI) tract. Similarly fermented foods possess nutrients in pre-digested form, improve the bioavailability of micronutrients and assist in excretion of toxic compounds formed during the normal metabolism from the body.
Some examples of functional food
There are many other terms which are used for denoting to similar kind of food products available in market. These products are explained hereunder.
Examples of Nutraceuticals include β-glucan in oat and barley that assist in preventing the cholesterol absorption and improve cholesterol status in cardiac patients. Supplementation of diet with micronutrients like iron and calcium assist in recovering from anaemic and osteoporotic conditions.
Nutraceuticals are considered to fall in between the continuum of diet and medicines. Certain classes of Nutraceuticals which have been identified are listed here under.
These are known as nutritional supplement or food supplement. These are preparations which are developed to complement the diet and provide nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino-acids, fatty acids, etc. which may either absent or available in low amounts in food that one consume.
In some countries Dietary supplements are included in the category of foods whereas in other nations it has been classified as drugs. The recent list also includes botanicals, herbs, and enzymes in the list of dietary supplements.
Functional beverages and drinks
- Be a food for oral ingestion or tube feeding
- Be labeled for the dietary management of a specific medical disorder, disease or condition for which there is distinct nutritional needs
- Be intended to be used under medical supervision.
- Nutritionally complete formulas
- Nutritionally incomplete formulas
- Formulas for metabolic disorders
- Oral rehydration products