One could argue that all foods are functional: some merely function to add fat to hips while others overachieve with bioactive compounds to fight cancer.
However, the term “functional” is now regulated in the food and beverage industry.
A new “must-read” primer available free online maps the history of functional foods and their present day forms. In Functional Beverages: The Emerging Side of Functional Foods Commercial Trends, Research, and Health Implications, researchers from the University of Foggia in Italy give an exhaustive account of scientific advances in beverages containing probiotics, prebiotics and other components which may support health. It appears in the November 2014 Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.
In the history section, the authors state that “the concept of functional food was first introduced in Japan in the mid-1980s for foods containing ingredients with functions for health…“foods which are expected to have certain health benefits, and have been licensed to bear a label claiming that a person using them for specified health use may expect to obtain the health use through the consumption thereof.”
Functional foods in the United States are defined as ““foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.”
Whereas in Europe, “a food product can only be considered functional if together with the basic nutritional impact it has beneficial effects on one or more functions of the human organism thus either improving the general and physical conditions or/and decreasing the risk of the evolution of diseases’.’
The size of the burgeoning market is discussed, with number of product launches at 881 in the United States with fewer but still large numbers in Europe and Asia.
Milk and yogurt drinks with probiotics predominate in the dairy beverage section. The most common bacteria include L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. casei and B. bifidum. A comprehensive chart shows available probiotic beverages. Fermentation also produces other molecules which are considered healthful. Cereals, for instance, produce nondigestible poly- and oligo-saccharides, and also enhance bioavailability of some amino acids and B vitamins. Others produce folate, cobalamin, vitamin K, riboflavin and thiamine. The authors also discuss how a fermentation product called γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) acts in neurotransmission, diuresis, and other effects.
Other areas of discussion include:
- Growth of probiotics in fruits and vegetables
- Viability and extension of shelf-life of probiotics
- Uses of yeast fermentation
- Uses of prebiotics and synbiotics
- Templates for designing new functional beverages
The collaboration of food producers and researchers will be necessary to take the present market in functional beverages to the next level.