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Functional Foods - The food of the future

The concept of food as medicine dates back centuries, to the era of the Greek philosopher Hippocrates. Recent studies have confirmed that diet may modulate various physiological functions and it may in fact have beneficial or even detrimental roles when it comes to tackling certain diseases, quite apart from the aspect of satisfying basic nutritional needs. These findings have shifted our understanding of diet from a baseline standard of “adequate/sufficient nutrition” to that of “optimal/enhanced nutrition” and this concept has more recently led to the appearance of functional foods.

Functional foods are described by FUFOSE (Functional Food Science in Europe) as follows:

 “Food may be regarded as ‘functional’ if it is satisfactorily demonstrated to benefit one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects, and in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or a reduction in terms of risk of disease. Functional foods must remain foods and they must demonstrate their effects in amounts that may normally be expected to be consumed in a diet: they are not pills or capsules, they must form part of a normal food pattern”.

Over the years, these products, which began as foods enriched with vitamins and/or minerals, such as Vitamin C, zinc or calcium, have evolved into products that contain highly functional bioactive compounds, such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, phytosterols, protein hydrolysates, soluble fibres and live cultures. The health claims that support these substances are key factors in the development of the functional food market.

Enhanced foods were first introduced in Japan in the 80s as FOSHU or Foods for Specified Health Use. Since then, the functional food market has expanded, and it has become popular in Japan, the US and Europe. The global size of the functional foods market accounted for USD175 billion in 2020, ¾ of this figure was accounted for by Japan and the US. The probiotic products market alone, the biggest category in the functional foods sector, is estimated to reach USD69 billion by 2023.

The functional foods market is both dynamic and rapidly-expanding. In general terms, consumers are willing to pay more for foods with additional health benefits, however understanding consumer interests and the correct positioning and marketing of each functional product are key factors in any successful product launch. Younger consumers are more likely to be motivated by positive health claims, rather than by similar products with marketing that centres on ideas of reduced disease risk, which is a line more popular with older consumers. Comprehending consumer values, perceptions, lifestyles, and taking demographic information into account is key to develop efficient market strategies for new, successful products.

In addition to the positive impacts that come with functional-food consumption, many studies have highlighted the positive correlation between consuming FF and factors that relate to food hygiene, general healthy lifestyles and various socio-economic variables, thus demonstrating the much broader impact of FF in terms of overall public health levels.

Functional foods are driven by probiotic-containing products, especially in dairy and plant-based drinks and fermented products, as well as in other RTD beverages, bakery products and baby food. Probiotics in food and beverages today account for over 80% of the global F&B market and are growing at 6.8% CAGR. We previously took a detailed look into probiotics and the benefits of other live cultures. Click on the following link to learn more in case you missed it: (link). Feel free to contact our team about the LYOCULTURE LC DP BDF probiotic culture range to learn more!

Fish collagen hydrolysate is another popular ingredient in the functional foods market. Collagen hydrolysates are complex mixtures of biopeptides, with different chain lengths and amino acid sequences, which may exert a wide variety of bioactivities. Low molecular weight collagen marine-origin hydrolysates, such as BDF’s NATURLAGEN, overcome the limitations of traditional collagen sources, such as swine flu, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, while they also sidestep any food-related religious issues, and they are less allergenic than their parent proteins, which even makes them suitable for hypoallergenic infant foods.

Marine collagen hydrolysates have multiple well-documented bioactive activities, with antioxidant, antimicrobial, antihypertensive and hypoglycaemic properties, so providing a range of beneficial health impacts that range from skin, joint and bone health to overall antiaging properties. Fish collagen peptides also have numerous other bioactivities, such as mineral-binding capacity, lipid-lowering effects, and even immunomodulatory activity. Furthermore, the use of collagen peptides in food products enhances physicochemical properties such as solubility, emulsifying capacity, antifreeze activity and aids in protecting against oxidation. In overall terms, thanks to their bioactivity, high bioavailability and safety, as well as their excellent functional properties, marine fish collagen peptides are one of the most versatile ingredients for application in functional foods. Feel free to contact us for more detailed information about NATURLAGEN!

Last, but not least, let’s talk about phytochemicals, which are potent plant-sourced bioactive compounds. A variety exist on the market, but the best-documented, which also has well- recognized health benefits, is hydroxytyrosol, the active ingredient of BDF’s own OHlive Antiox. Hydroxytyrosol is a potent polyphenol that is extracted from the fruit and leaves of olives, with one of the highest antioxidant activities known. Apart from being an antioxidant, hydroxytyrosol is claimed to possess many other bioactive properties, and acts as an anti-inflammatory, an anticancerogenic, a neuro-protector and a cardioprotector, it is also renowned for its immunomodulatory, antidiabetic, cytoprotective, antimicrobial, antiviral, endothelial and vascular-regulatory, and skin-protection properties.  The beneficial health effects described in the EFSA authorized health claim centre on the protection of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles from oxidative damage, due to free radicals scavenging potency of hydroxytyrosol. The antioxidant properties of hydroxytyrosol not only have a beneficial impact on consumer health, they also improve food properties, which makes it yet another versatile ingredient in the food industry, as well as an attractive multifunctional product for functional food development.

Check out our OHlive Antiox page or feel free to request detailed information about one of the best natural antioxidants on the market!

The functional food market today explores potent natural bioactive substances, however an extensive line of research is now focusing on genetic modification in a move to expand options aimed at enriching food products with novel ingredients or with modified already-existing ingredients, which goes hand in hand with nutritional genomics and integrative nutrition approach.

In short, in order for a functional food to be successful, it must focus on a health benefit that appeals to the mass market and it must address issues that centre on general well-being. These health benefits must be well-communicated, either through health claims or by means of a well-documented active ingredient. Nonetheless, manufacturers should consider that although functionality will permit higher profit margins, their functional products must be competitive on all platforms, and in order to be successful, they cannot rely on health benefits alone. The offer of premium organoleptic properties, the lure of convenience and the strategic appropriate positioning are all essential factors. Other aspects, such as brand loyalty, advertising, promotion, quality control and competition are also important.

Contact our team of experts for detailed information about BDF’s active ingredients and how to incorporate them into your functional foods range!

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