More than 2500 years ago Hippocrates said that food is medicine and medicine is food. Though functional foods are not medicine yet they have a positive impact on health. Actually all foods that provide taste, aroma and nutritive value can be considered functional foods. However, in the modern day functional foods are defined as foods that provide an additional physical health benefit besides meeting basic nutritional needs. Functional foods provide consumers foods that are almost similar to their natural state but are also enriched and fortified with nutrients.
In the 1980s, Japan coined the term functional foods for processed foods that contained ingredients that had specific health benefits and were at the same time nutritious. Japan was also the first country that had specific regulations for functional foods. In India functional foods come under Section 22 of the FSSAI regulations and till date there were no regulations for these foods. Food business operators manufacturing foods in this category had to apply for product approval. The FSSAI has now come up with a draft regulation for functional foods under Section 22 which once published in the Official Gazette after the final notification will become standardised and FBOs will be able to manufacture, import & sell such food articles based on the guidelines of the new regulations.
Functional foods cover the bioactive compound present in the food itself and have health benefits for example beta glucan in barley or omega 3 fatty acids from salmon fish. It can also mean whole food like soy and garlic that are naturally nutrient-rich whole food sources. Plants also have compounds known as phytochemicals that provide health benefits. Oats contain cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre b-glucan that reduces total and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and so lowers the risk of heart disease. Soya is considered a high quality protein that plays a preventive and therapeutic role in cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and reduces menopausal symptoms. Flaxseed contains 57% of the omega-3 fatty acid, a-linolenic acid which also reduces bad cholesterol. Tomatoes have lycopene which is a carotenoid that can reduce risk of cancer. Garlic works as antibiotic, anti-hypertensive, and has cholesterol-lowering properties and also reduces risk of cancer.
Dairy Products are one of the best sources of calcium, a nutrient which can prevent osteoporosis and also colon cancer. Fermented dairy products known as probiotics have gained more popularity in this segment. The FSSAI draft regulation defines probiotics under section 22 as “foods that contain approved prebiotics and are a non-viable food component which confers a health benefit to the consumer by modulation of gut micro biota.” And also as foods ingredients that contain “live micro-organisms beneficial to human health, which when ingested in adequate amounts (as a single strain or as a combination of cultures) confer one or more specified/or demonstrated health benefits in human beings; and the microorganism strain used in these foods shall be deemed to possess probiotic property when it is capable of surviving passage through the digestive tract, and has the capability to adhere and proliferate in the gut and be able to confer a physiological benefit.
The functional food market is estimated to grow at the rate of 23 to 25 per cent by 2017. The market is growing because of widespread consumer interest and awareness of how proper diet can improve immunity and health. Among functional foods functional beverages are one step ahead of functional foods. Besides this ageing population and the increase in health care are all driving the global functional foods market. However, consumers must be aware that though functional foods and beverages provide health benefits, they cannot be considered an alternative to a normal balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.