Present And Future Scope Of Functional Foods

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.

Present And Future Scope Of Functional Foods

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

Definition of functional foods as given by various scientific and regulatory bodies

However, under Indian food laws functional foods have not yet been defined. Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) have initiated for defining functional foods and formulating regulations related to their development, labeling and marketing.
The concept of Functional food is not new in India and it is more closely associated with Indian System of Medicine (ISM) popularly referred as Ayurveda in which many plant and milk based products are used for curing the various diseases since ages. For a lay man functional foods are normal foods that provide essential nutrients and also contain certain compounds which are helpful in preventing certain diseases.

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

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.


Term Nutraceutical consists of two words Nutrition and Pharmaceuticals. It was coined by Stephen DeFelice, Chairman, Foundation for Innovation in Medicine (FIM). He defined a food or part of food that provides health benefits including the intervention and treatment of a disease. 

It means nutraceuticals are either food or dietary constituent that positively improve the health status of individuals by modulating the body functions. Nutraceuticals could be considered as broad group under which functional foods, functional beverages and dietary supplements are included. Nutraceuticals are those available in the form of powder, pills and capsules.

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.

Dietary supplements

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 foods

Functional foods are those foods that provide additional health benefits besides delivering nutrients when consumed. They possess certain health promoting components that might have disease preventing or disease alleviating role.

Functional beverages and drinks

These are those beverages or dink that exhibit health promoting attributes by being rich in certain health promoting components. These may be helpful in improving the health or in sustaining the normal healthy life. 

Traditional functional beverages include sports or high energy drinks that meet the requirement of quick energy and electrolytes for athletes. Newer type of products consists of fortified fruit juice, probiotic dairy beverages, high calcium beverage and malted milk beverage.

Medical Foods

Medical food are foods that are specially designed to meet the nutritional requirement of critically ill persons or for those persons who are having diverse kind of nutritional needs which cannot be provided by simple diet. 

These products can be differentiated from the broader category of foods meant for special dietary use like geriatric and any other category of functional foods. In order to be called as medical food it must meet following requirements:

  • 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.
Medical foods could be classified into following groups:
  • Nutritionally complete formulas
  • Nutritionally incomplete formulas
  • Formulas for metabolic disorders
  • Oral rehydration products

The food developed for allergic persons such as lactose intolerant or gluten intolerant persons belongs to the Medical foods. Likewise persons suffering with renal disorders or those required to undergo some major surgery needs specialized foods

Significance of Functional Foods

In recent years, there has been a vast and rapidly growing body of scientific data showing that diet plays an important part in diseases. Diet is thought to contribute to 6 of the 10 leading causes of death. 

Widespread malnutrition or under nutrition in our country is mainly due to the absence of certain key macro as well as micronutrients in foods the people consume. Inadequate nutrition contributes to more than 40% mortality and 30% of overall disease burden in the developing countries.

In India, around 380 million people are under nourished and needs all basic & essential nutrition for normal growth and adequate life-span. On the other hand, 570 million people consume a diet normally adequate in calorie but lack micronutrients or they may have condition specific dietary requirements. 
This segment also consists of diabetic and CHD persons. According to survey conducted in 2011 the population of diabetic person to 50.8 million which is highest among the world. It is expected that 60% of the heart patients will be in India by 2016. Almost 2 million people have lost their life in last year only because of the cardiac ailments. 
Surprisingly half of the heart patients are below the age of 40 years. 36 million Indians are suffering with osteoporosis, a bone degenerative disease affecting the strength of bone and occur due to calcium deficiency. 
Anaemia is a major killer in our country and it is estimated that every second women is anemic. The situation is even more alarming among children as more than 50% children below the age of five are suffering with moderate to severe anaemia. The mortality and disease burden is costing about 1 percent of our National GDP.
Nutrients and nonnutritive food components have been associated with the prevention and/or treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, CHD, diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis. According to an estimate about 70% of certain cancers are directly related to the type of food we eat.  
As the data supporting the role of diet in health promotion and disease prevention continue to mount, it is likely that the quantity of enhanced foods will expand substantially. There is an increasing demand by consumers for quality of life, which is fueling the nutraceutical revolution. 
Functional foods are viewed as one option available for seeking cost-effective health care and improved health status. Moreover, the large segment of the population is ageing and considerable health care budget in most country is focused on treatment rather than prevention. 
Thus, the use of nutraceuticals in daily diets can be seen as means to reduce escalating health care costs that will contribute not only to a longer lifespan, but also more importantly, to a longer health span.

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