Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges Introduction to Functional Foods While food has long been used to from whole foods and apply different re- Shifting the Health Care Paradigm improve health, our knowledge of quirements for benefit claims and sup- “An apple a day keeps the doctor health is now being used to improve porting scientific documentation. The away” could perhaps be considered the food. Strictly speaking, all food is func- panel considered this legal distinction first functional food advertisement. Func- tional, in that it provides energy and and decided that, from a scientific per- tional foods offer opportunities to reduce nutrients necessary for survival. But the spective, dietary supplements should be disease risk and promote wellness with term “functional food” in use today included in the definition of functional minimal health professional involvement. conveys health benefits that extend far foods. Supplements merely constitute a A growing number of consumers per- beyond mere survival. Food and nutri- different delivery vehicle for a bioactive ceive the ability to control their health by tion science has moved from identify- component, and therefore the scientific improving their present health and/or ing and correcting nutritional deficien- demonstration of efficacy and safety re- hedging against aging and future disease. cies to designing foods that promote mains the same. These consumers create a demand for optimal health and reduce the risk of food products with enhanced characteris- disease. Applying Scientific Advances tics and associated health benefits. The The costly and complex process of Creating a scientifically valid distinc- combination of consumer interest, ad- translating scientific advances and nu- tion between food and medicine has nev- vances in food technology, and new evi- tritional innovations into consumer er been easy. Early nutrition research fo- dence-based science linking diet to disease products is not without pitfalls. Sound cused on establishing the necessary intake and disease prevention provides an un- science must underlie the development, levels for vitamins and minerals, result- precedented opportunity to improve pub- marketing, and regulation of these new ing in cures for numerous deficiency- lic health. functional foods to protect and inform based diseases. Recent scientific advances A new self-care paradigm recognizes consumers. Regulatory oversight must have further blurred the line between that foods can provide health benefits that ensure the safety and efficacy of prod- food and medicine, as scientists identify can coexist with traditional medical ap- ucts and the accuracy of their market- bioactive food components that can re- proaches to disease treatment. Science has ing claims. duce the risk of chronic disease, improve clearly demonstrated additional dietary quality of life, and promote growth and roles in reducing disease risk, and con- Defining Functional Foods development. sumers have learned that food has a The term “functional food,” al- Traditional definitions of and divi- greater impact on health than previously though arbitrary, is nonetheless useful sions between food and medicine should known. At the same time, consumers rec- to convey to consumers the unique not restrict consumer access to knowl- ognize problems with the current health characteristics of the food and its asso- edge about the benefits of functional care system, perceiving that it is often ex- ciated health benefits. The Expert Re- foods. Likewise, the framework for pensive, time-constrained, and imperson- port defines functional foods as foods strong regulatory oversight should not al. and food components that provide a present unnecessary barriers to the devel- Functional foods fit into a continuum health benefit beyond basic nutrition opment and marketing of functional that ranges from health maintenance/pro- (for the intended population). Exam- foods. Where existing terminology and motion to disease treatment. On one end ples may include conventional foods; regulatory frameworks are inadequate, of the continuum are public health pro- fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods; they must be modified. grams aimed at reducing disease risk in a and dietary supplements. Functional Research currently underway will re- large segment of the population through foods provide essential nutrients be- veal how a myriad of substances can be self-directed lifestyle changes. On the oth- yond quantities necessary for normal used as functional food components. In er end of the continuum is individualized maintenance, growth, and develop- some cases, advances are as simple as treatment of disease by health care profes- ment, and/or provide other biologically better understanding the role and opti- sionals, using drugs and other medical in- active components that impart health mal levels of traditional nutrients, espe- terventions. benefits or desirable physiological ef- cially for specific subpopulations. New Our health care system has a role for fects. research in proteomics, nutrigenomics, all these treatment options. Functional When defining functional foods, a metabolomics, and other disciplines is foods should be integral components of word about dietary supplements is nec- helping to identify the biological basis by established health programs to reduce the essary. Some current legal standards which food components promote health risk of specific diseases while enhancing classify dietary supplements separately and wellness. consumer control and minimizing cost. Recognizing the tremendous health benefits offered by functional foods, the Institute of Food Technologists commissioned an expert panel to review the available scientific literature related to functional food development. The panel’s report is divided into nine sections: Definitions, Introduction, Food and Genes, Current Legal Standards, Scientific Standards, Policy Limitations, Bringing Functional Foods to Market, Role of Research, and Conclusions. Copies of the report are available at www.ift.org. Founded in 1939, the Institute of Food Technologists is a 26,000-member international not-for-profit scientific society for food science and technology.
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