The Changing Face of Functional Foods
Clare M. Hasler, Ph.D.
Functional Foods for Health Program, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumers began to view food from a radically different vantage point in the 1990s. This “changing face” of food has evolved into an exciting area of the food and nutrition sciences known as functional foods. Functional foods can be defined as those providing health benefits beyond basic nutrition and include whole, fortified, enriched or enhanced foods which have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels. Interest in functional foods skyrocketed in the last decade due to a number of key factors, including the growing self-care movement, changes in food regulations and overwhelming scientific evidence highlighting the critical link between diet and health. The interest in functional foods has resulted in a number of new foods in the marketplace designed to address specific health concerns, particularly as regards chronic diseases of aging. In addition to new foods designed specifically to enhance health, however, functional foods can also include those traditional, familiar foods for which recent research findings have highlighted new health benefits or dispelled old dogma about potential adverse health effects. An excellent example is the American egg-Nature’s original functional food. Eggs have not traditionally been regarded as a functional food, primarily due to concerns about their adverse effects on serum cholesterol levels. Furthermore, it is now known that there is little if any connection between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels and consuming up to one or more eggs per day does not adversely affect blood cholesterol levels. Finally, eggs are an excellent dietary source of many essential (e.g., protein, choline) and non-essential (e.g., lutein/zeaxanthin) components which may promote optimal health. Nutrition in the new millennium will be dramatically different than it was in the 20th century. Completion of the human genome project will facilitate the identification of humans predisposed to diet-related diseases. Targeted or “prescription” nutrition will become the norm, enabling the food and medical industries to provide timely and individualized approaches to disease prevention and health promotion. The egg will continue to play an important role in the changing face of functional foods.