Functional Food and Beverages: Is it the future of Human Health?

The food and beverage industry is ever evolving. It is also an industry that is directly related to human health and wellbeing. The diversity of the industry has a new and growing trend these days and that is the concept of functional foods and beverages.

It is also a fact that people these days are more prone towards adopting natural and convenient ways to improve and maintain their health. While food industries and manufacturers are responding to this growing demand by bringing into the market, ever increasing numbers of new and unique functional food and drinks products.

What actually are functional foods and drinks?

In simple terms, functional foods and drinks are dietary components or foods that are manufactured to provide additional health benefits on consumption beyond the basic nutrition that is inherently there in foods. These food and beverages aids in taking better control of one’s health as each one is meant to provide specific health benefits.

dietary supplement, functional food
Image is for representational purpose only

Dietary supplements or functional food and beverages have biologically active components that imparts health benefits or you may say desirable physiological effects. So, in short, a functional food or drink is a health food that claims to have health promoting or disease preventing properties in addition to the natural supply of nutrients.

The term which was first used in Japan in the 1980’s is now fast emerging and gaining wide recognition amongst all health conscious people around the globe.

So, to sum up we can say that functional foods are not eaten or drunk for the sake of taste or any emotional or traditional reasons but are consumed for their practical health and energy values.

What are the types of functional food and beverage products available in the market? What are their health claims?

In general, functional foods are the ones that included biologically and scientifically processed foods that are fortified with health promoting nutrients. Fermented products with live culture are termed as probiotics, example is yoghurt.

Functional beverages are ready to drink products that are non-alcoholic and may have non-traditional ingredients like herbs, amino acids and vitamins. These beverages are meant to promote energy, immunity and heart health.

Real fruit juices are functional foods.

Functional drinks are preferred more and in demand, as these are ready to drink, easy to carry and convenient in addition to them promoting health.

All functional food and drink products have labels pasted on them telling us about their health benefits and the reasons why we should have them. For example there are certain cereals that claim to have extra fiber and having food with extra fiber can help in reducing the risks of developing certain cancer types.

Also concurrent health issues keep on influencing the market. People these days are very inclined towards fat loss and weight management, heart diseases, gut health, cancers, diabetes and more. The possible means and ways to defend one-self from these health hazards leads to the use of more nutritious and functional foods and drinks.

Functional foods and drugs have been categorized in four types and these are: Whole Foods, Fortified Foods, Enhanced Foods and Enriched Foods.

The health benefit of each type is labelled on the product packaging along with its effects on our body. Say for example, calcium fortified juices is said to reduce the chances of osteoporosis and probiotic enriched foods and drinks are good for gut health and helps keeping it healthy and functional optimally at all times.

Understanding the current trend in India

In the modern era, there has been a growing attention on alternative ways to prevent and treat diseases. Neutaceuticals is one thing that is used extensively for the purpose. The term – Neutaceuticals refers to the link between the two domains – nutrition and pharmaceuticals. The human micro biota plays a vital role in maintaining health. Neutaceuticals have the ability to change the human micro biota for health benefits.

The global nutra-ceutical industry is one of the rapidly growing industries in the world today. Presently, United States, Japan and Europe accounts for almost 93% of the total industry and as these regions are approaching maturity, the current focus is one the emerging markets like China and India.

The growth and popularity of the industry in India is pretty fast and all can be attributed to health awareness and inclination towards nutrition. The Indian lifestyle is rapidly changing. With more preference of processed foods, sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy food choices, it has led to many lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardio vascular diseases and poor gut health. As a consequential result, Indian consumers, particularly the upper middle class and the high income group are preferring nutra-ceutical against prescribed drugs. They have slowly started to understand that food alone cannot fulfil their requirement of all vital nutrients and hence they are adopting to functional foods and supplements for disease prevention and healthy living.

To give consumers what they want, the food industry continues to innovate with new functional food and beverage products. The growing trend and the numerous benefits that we can reap out of these food and drink varieties makes us obviously think that functional food and beverage might be the future of human health.

Dr. Prakash Chandra Bhatt is the founder of Billion Cheers and Fermentis Life Sciences, a passionate research scientist with doctorate in pharmaceutical biotechnology from Jamia Hamdard University. His expertise lies in developing innovative products and processes by application of biotechnology, nanotechnology and fermentation technology. He is a proud recipient of Young Scientist Award and research grant from the Department of Science & Technology of Government of India.

He says, “Being a biotechnologist by profession I am convinced that microbiome is the most significant part of our body and plays a key role in our health. I believe that the focus of the future research for human health will revolve around microbiome.”

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