Functional Foods and Beverages
Certain foods and beverages or their components provide health and wellness benefits which go beyond the average modern diet. Such foods and beverages are known as functional foods or functional beverages. While all foods and beverages are functional, the term functional foods or functional beverages are defined as "natural or processed foods that contain known or unknown biologically-active compounds; the foods, in defined, effective, and non-toxic amounts, provided a clinically proven and documented health benefits for the prevention, management, or treatment of chronic diseases"
Functional foods and beverages are advertised as having health benefits which include claims that they improve cardiovascular health, digestion, immunity, and joint health, amongst others.
Vitamins and minerals were the first substances to be used to fortify foods. Their addition to various foods helped to reduce the incidence of diseases of malnutrition around the world. The addition of vitamin D has dramatically reduced the incidence of rickets, a childhood bone disease. The addition of vitamin A has reduced the incidence of the eye disease xerophthalmia, while the addition of niacin (vitamin B3) has dramatically reduced the incidence of the skin disease pellagra.
These are just a few examples of the benefits of fortifies functional foods, and in some ways they are how the functional food movement started. Over the last two decades the fortification of functional foods has evolved and so have the foods themselves. Health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking functional foods in an effort to control their own health and well-being. Growing evidence supports the claim that functional foods containing physiologically-active components, either from plant or animal sources, may enhance health and reduce the risk of developing various diseases and health conditions. Therefore, foods fortified with health promoting components and compounds have become part of an overall healthy lifestyle that is being adopted by increasing numbers of people.
Due to their fortification, functional foods have started blurring the lines between dietary supplements and food. There are many examples of components which are used to fortify functional foods, most of which are staples of dietary supplements. We have listed some additives that are used to fortify functional foods and the reason that they are used.
Carotenoids are one class of substances used to fortify foods. They include such as β-carotene as an antioxidant to boost cellular defenses, lutein or zeaxanthin to support eye health, and/or lycopene to support prostate health.
Various dietary fibers are used to fortify foods. Insoluble fibers are added to support the maintenance of digestive health, soluble fibers to attempt to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and some types of cancer, β-glucans to also try to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Various fatty acids are also added. These include monounsaturated fatty acids which may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3) which also may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as well as support heart, eye and mental functions.
Prebiotics such as inulin, fructooligosaccharides and polydextrose as well as probiotic bacteria are added to support digestive health and to aid calcium absorption.
Flavonoids extracted from red grapes and seeds, tea, cocoa, chocolate and berries are also used to fortify foods. They are antioxidants which boost cellular defenses, and depending on the flavonoid and its source they support and maintain health brain, heart, and urinary tract health. Examples of flavonoids include quercetin, epigallocatechin, and kaempferol amongst others.
From this small and rather incomplete list it is clear that functional foods can be made to target and support the health of most bodily functions of the body, and that regardless of the food or format, they can improve the function of a multitude of different foodstuffs.
Functional Beverages are a subsector of the functional food industry. It is the fastest growing segment of the beverage industry. In 2006 per capita consumption of functional beverages was 250 liters per year, while from 2006 to 2009 the per capital consumption of carbonated soft drink fell from 730L to 190 per year. While these numbers are not necessarily total accurate, they do illustrate that there is a trend towards healthier beverage choices amongst the US population. This trend is more than likely similar in other developed and developing nations.
Functional beverages have become very popular for several reasons. One is that it is easy for a person to choose to drink a healthier beverage than a food. The second Is that beverages are a better vehicle for the consumption of healthy supplement-like additives than foods are, this is a function of dosage.
Functional beverages are mostly divided into four types. These are hydration, energy or rejuvenation, health and wellness, and weight management.
Traditionally, hydration beverages have contained defined concentrations of salts and minerals, however competitive pressures have incentivized companies to add various vitamin combinations.
Energy drinks generally contain stimulants such as caffeine, guarana, taurine and yerba matte. However the supplementation of energy drinks with everything from B vitamins, ginseng, ginko biloba, creatine, as well as flavonoids has also become very popular.
People concerned about their general health and wellness have also been the target of functional beverage companies. Low calories beverages made with stevia, a natural low calorie sweetener, have become very popular. Just like in other functional beverage classes, low calorie beverages with the addition of various vitamin combinations have been rapidly appearing in the marketplace.
The obesity epidemic in North America has increased consumer demand for easy weigh loss methods, and beverage companies are starting to take advantage of this trend. Products with weigh loss claims have started to emerge. These products generally contain polyphenols, green tea and green coffee extracts and are labelled with claims that they promote weight loss by increasing metabolism.
While this is just a small sampling of the type of functional beverages available, it is certain that the functional beverage market is growing, and that it will become more complex with better products as competitive pressures increase on the producers.