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Functional Foods - What are We Talking About

It is easy to get lost in all of the hype. It seems that each day we are being forced to learn a new word. It wasn’t too long ago that bits and bytes (O.K. the spelling is different, but you get the idea) referred to snacks that you ate at cocktail parties. Who invented the word nerd and who turned network into a verb anyway?


The term functional food isn't all that old either, but it may not be a term that everyone is familiar with. Scientists in their wisdom saw that there was a need for a term to describe the ever increasing number of foods that were being identified as being good for your health. Fine so far. But being scientists, it soon became popular to create a new definition, and then another and then another.. One of the longer versions appears in the document Food Safety and Quality - Innovative Strategies may be needed to regulate new food technologies United States General Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives. GAO/RCED-93-142.

“Functional foods are products formulated with naturslly occurring chemicals (or combination of chemicals) - found in many fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs and spices - to provide a health benefit, lower the risk of certain diseases, or affect a particular body process. They go beyond correcting diseases such as pellagra and scurvy, caused by nutritional deficiencies. Functional foods are akin to novel macro ingredients in that their formulation is intended to provide a health benefit to consumers. However, functional foods are designed to lower the risk of specific diseases such as lung cancer by removing certain ingredient, by adding or combining ingredients not normally found in a food product, or by concentrating substances in higher than usual quantities.”

To be fair a shorter definition does appear elsewhere in this document which is almost short. “Functional foods - food substances designed to lower the risk or delay the onset of certain diseases.”

So while the scientists and now the bureaucrats debate about the details, we have settled on the following definition that has come out of a report prepared by Health Canada. It’s a little bit shorter and clearer than many other definitions going around. So expect in the future to see articles on foods or food ingredients in medicinal food news that fit into the definition:

“A functional food is similar in appearance to conventional foods, is consumed as part of a usual diet, and has demonstrated physiological benefits and / or reduces the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions.”

So now that we have settled that, pour yourself a glass of wine and pass around the bowl of bites and bytes.


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Functional Foods and Natural Health Products Sector

External Link Index 1 - 2 -

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