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Concepts of Functional Foods


ILSI Europe Concise Monograph

Until recently, health was mainly defined as the absence of disease. Over recent decades the definition has evolved to include physical as well as mental and psychological well-being. A major element in this new relationship to health is foods, which not only are required for body development, growth, and maintenance but also play a key role in the quality of life.

Functional food is a recent concept that originated in Japan and that is being further developed there and in the United States and Europe. This concept implies that foods and food components have the ability to beneficially influence body functions and help improve the state of well-being and health and reduce the risk of diseases.

In the 1990s, ILSI Europe coordinated a functional food project that was submitted as a European Commission (EC) Concerted Action known as FUFOSE (Functional Food Science in Europe). Initiated in 1995, it involved, over a period of three years, about 100 European experts in nutrition and medicine who critically assessed the state of the science in functional foods. They reviewed the scientific literature about foods and food components and their capacity to modulate body functions. These experts then worked on a concept of functional foods and elaborated, for the first time, a global framework that included a strategy for the identification and development of functional foods and for the scientific substantiation of their effects, with the objective of justifying health-related claims. In particular, the experts recommended the use of two types of claims to characterise functional foods: enhanced-function claims and reduction of disease risk claims, which are now under discussion in expert committees of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Scientific Concepts of Functional Foods in Europe: Consensus Document evolved from this work.

This new concise monograph, based on the work and the documents produced by these experts, and especially the consensus document on Scientific Concepts of Functional Foods in Europe, was recently published. The concise monograph covers the definition of the concept, various physiological functions involved (such as early development, defence against oxidative stress, the cardiovascular system, etc.), the types of claims relevant to this area and their substantiation, several examples of functional foods, and includes a summary of relevant technological developments.

This concise monograph, published under the responsibility of the ILSI Europe Functional Food Task Force, is expected to help readers gain a short but clear overview of functional foods. It is hoped it will establish a sound scientific approach in this fast-evolving area of nutrition and food science.

This booklet is one of a series of ILSI Europe Concise Monographs. These monographs are written for those with a general background in the life sciences. However, the style and content of the concise monographs will also appeal to a wider audience who seek up-to-date and authoritative reviews on a viariety of important topics relating to nutrition, health and food safety. Concise monographs present an overview of a particular scientific topic. The text of each concise mongraph is peer-reviewed by academic scientists of high standing. The concise monographs make important results and conclusions widely available.

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Download the Spanish translation here.

Hard copies can be ordered free of charge by sending an email to: publications@ilsieurope.be.