Functional Foods And Disease Prevention

''Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food'' Hippocrates, 460 BC. Identification of the relationship of foods and prevention from a range of diseases in human goes back to several centuries. It is noteworthy to comprehend that along with the ever-increasing consumer expectations toward convenient foods, the desire to maintain and improve health remains the key driver in the consumer goods market. Apparently, consumer awareness on the diet is gradually improving, and increasing health consciousness of modern consumers emphasizes on the broader idea of ''wellness'' obtained through optimum nutrition. Further, health challenges coming in the mode of chronic diseases that prevail mainly among the aging population compel the consumers to reevaluate their nutrition and life style choices they adapted for years. Dietary transitions are becoming common as a result of this reevaluation process where consumers become proactive in reducing risk of the occurrence of chronic diseases and trying to manage the diseases without medical interventions. In this context, consumers are becoming highly receptive for functional foods and beverages seeking health-promoting roles of dietary compounds. Consequently, food industry has ramped up the development and marketing of diverse group of functional food products using different sources of foods on which biological assays have confirmed their beneficial effects related to the disease prevention and health promotion (Gray et al, 2003).

Functional foods can be developed in many forms. Conventional foods with bioactive components can be presented claiming positive health outcomes. Some may be fortified or enhanced foods, specifically created to reduce disease risk associated with a certain group of people. Although most foods have its own function, in this chapter ''functionality'' is ascribed to a specific phenomenon widely accepted by the scientific community involved in this field which is defined as ''functional foods are foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition for the intended population. These substances provide essential nutrients often beyond quantities necessary for normal maintenance, growth and development, and/or other biologically active components that impart health benefits or desirable physiological effects'' (Anonymous, 2005). Further, this definition emphasizes the positive health benefits of food components not considered nutrients in the traditional definition.

A. Emerging trends in the functional food industry

When surveying the world market for functional foods, it is evident that distinct trends are emerging in different parts of the world. Apparently, some functional food categories common to most regions are emerging faster and will significantly outperform during the years ahead (Farkas, 2000). Analyzing trends across globe, it is predicted that digestive health and heart health will be key areas of focus in developing functional food products for the years to come. Based on worldwide analysis of new introductions of functional food categories, products that are focused on digestive health are capturing the interest of a broader audience than products with a narrow focus such as products targeting specific illnesses. In parallel to the ramped up need for the improvement of dietary health, foods with probiotics, prebiotics, and dietary fiber are capturing the interest of consumers and food manufacturers. Similarly, a great industry emphasis is given to development of designer beverages such as energy and sports drinks. This has a link to consumer preference to go for wide range of food or beverage products that claim ''energy boosters,'' ''high vitamins,'' ''high minerals,'' and ''high antioxidants,'' and products promoting their antioxidant capacity specifically are getting flooded to the consumer markets to meet this demand. There are products in the market claiming that they are made out of ''super fruits,'' fruits which are having higher antioxidant power as they contain phytochemicals responsible for antioxidative mechanisms. Further, among claims relating minerals, in food products ''with calcium,'' ''high in calcium'' type of health claims are increasingly exploited.

Though it is a focus of a narrow audience to look for products focusing heart health, products with low saturated fats and cholesterol are admired by the majority of the consumers. In the same arena, o-3 fatty acids are still maintaining its recognition among consumers having identified its effects including protection against cardiovascular disease, various inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, and enhanced cognitive health. In recent years, there was concentration toward products targeting the women population composed of active ingredients capable of fighting against bone-related complications, pregnancy, or menopause-related issues. Wider coverage in research is given for phytoestrogens and phy-tosterols available in this category of products among other phytochemicals. Further, soy protein inclusions are getting highly recognized by women population due to their ability to reduce the risk of heart diseases by lowering blood cholesterol levels, promoting bone health, and easing symptoms of menopause. Further, there is an increasing demand for products targeting children. Active ingredients are added in these products and are capable of supporting brain development of infants, immunity enhancement, and acting against allergy reactions in the body. Also some of these products are aiming at promoting healthier eating habits and active life styles among children to prevent the unprecedented growth of obesity and related complications. Functional protein, peptides, and amino acids from different food sources are also renowned, and among them, soy protein concentrates are gaining much popularity attributed to the functional properties specifically toward women population. Other than that, there are products that are becoming popular for their functional effects relating development of healthier skin, energy supplements, weight management, cognitive boosters, antihypertension, antic-arcinogenic and antiallergic properties.

Your Heart and Nutrition

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