Food Scientists Make Their Case for Functional Foods

Discussion
Mar 25, 2005
Rick Moss

By Rick Moss

A newly released report, “Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges,” urges government officials to create economic incentives for the food industry to be more active in
producing foods designed to improve public health and prevent disease.

The report was commissioned by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a not-for-profit international scientific society with 26,000 world-wide members. The authors suggest
that “tax breaks, market exclusivity or a combination of both would serve as catalysts for increasing food company investment in functional food research,” according to a news
release.

“The functional foods currently available represent only a fraction of the potential opportunities for consumers to manage their health through diet,” said Fergus Clydesdale,
Ph.D., co-author of the report and department head of food science at University of Massachusetts. “It is imperative to further research to validate full effectiveness and establish
appropriate dietary levels.”

Potential functional food benefits cited in the report include improvements for conditions such as coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and neural tube defects. Defined as “foods
and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition,” these products are predicted to play a future roll in memory enhancement, reducing arthritis, increasing
energy, mental alertness, and improving sleep.

The report is available online at www.ift.org/ExpertReport.

Moderator’s Comment: Which segment(s) of the population will functional foods appeal to? How does the trend relate to the growing popularity of organics?

Could the functional foods consumer and the natural foods consumer be one and the same? The general philosophy seems consistent — better living through
good nutrition and more intelligent food choices. The demographics appear to be a match — aging Boomers, one would presume. However, it seems that the natural foods consumer
would cringe at statements like this, made in the IFT news release:

“The expert report calls for expanded research on traditional nutrients, other bioactive food components, and the intersection of genomics and molecular
nutrition.

Your typical Whole Foods-type would probably be attracted by the prospect that “consumers could tailor their diets to meet changing health goals and different
requirements at different ages,” but certainly not by the notion that we could get to that point because “discoveries in genetics make it possible to understand the effects of
nutrients in processes at the molecular level in the body.”

The benefits they promise are certainly worth investigating, but I would suggest the guys in the white lab coats get a good publicist.
Rick Moss – Moderator

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4 Comments on "Food Scientists Make Their Case for Functional Foods"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 11 months ago
So-called functional foods are a license for manufacturers to print money. They neither need nor deserve publicly funded economic incentives. The current trend for people to go mad buying fortified or functional foods that allegedly improve their health or reduce their risk of getting this that or t’other is going to continue snowballing; there is no end in sight. The big problem is that there is no way anyone will ever be able to verify or prove anything and there is already demonstrated risk that some claims made are inaccurate and based purely on hearsay and commercial decisions. Most people will happily pay extra if they think there is an increased benefit in what they are eating and that someone else (the manufacturer now and, if this were to be actioned, heaven forbid, the government) is looking out for their wellbeing, saving them from the hassle of thinking and making decisions about how to balance their diet. Too many people want shortcuts and are willing to take marketing and advertising claims at face value. Which… Read more »
Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 11 months ago

The concept is too broad to know what group these foods will appeal to. Genetically altered foods will be developed to carry all kinds of beneficial things into our bodies, but I doubt those will appeal to the healthy-food crowd. I think “functional foods” are far more likely to be “developed” one way or another than “found” in nature.

Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
15 years 11 months ago

Once functional foods become a mainstream offering, I think they will appeal to everyone. A key challenge is to develop items that really taste good. When those products are presented, along with evidence of safety and effectiveness, they will become cradle to grave mainstays…assuming they are affordable.

To the question on comparison to organics, in some respects they are the same customer…those looking to eat things that are good for you. In other respects, some organic customers will reject engineered food items that, in their opinion, may not be “pure.”

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 11 months ago

It’ll appeal to the aging boomers, as you said. But I sense many in this target demographic are confused by “functional,” “natural” and “organic” and tend to lump them together as something that might be good for them, so they buy it. There’s not even an agreed-upon definition of “natural.” Yeah, it would be nice if the government gave subsidies for healthy food, instead of tobacco and sugar. What a concept.

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