Key points

  • Functional foods deliver additional or enhanced benefits over and above their basic nutritional value.
  • The term ‘functional foods’ can be viewed as encompassing a very broad range of products.
  • Some functional foods are generated around a particular functional ingredient, for example foods containing probiotics, prebiotics, or plant stanols and sterols.
  • Other functional foods or drinks can be foods fortified with a nutrient that would not usually be present to any great extent (e.g. vitamin D in milk).
  • Functional foods and drinks may provide benefits in health terms, but should not be seen as an alternative to a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Examples of functional foods

  • Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms – mostly bacteria – which when taken in adequate amounts confer a health benefit.
  • Prebiotics promote the growth of particular bacteria in the large intestine that are beneficial to intestinal health and also inhibit the growth of bacteria that are potentially harmful to intestinal health.
  • Stanols and sterols, which occur naturally in small amounts in plants and fruits, are thought to have a cholesterol lowering effect and are added to products such as reduced/low fat spreads.