Why Functional foods are high valued?

Food with ingredient that are medically beneficial beyond their basic nutritional value are called functional food. It is similar in appearance to conventional food, consumed part of normal diet and has demonstrated physiological benefit and reduces the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional function. Examples include tomatoes, broccoli, citrus fruits, leafy vegetables and many more. People are starting to look at food as a perception for health. Functional food in highest demand include those containing omega -3 fatty acid, glucosamine and probiotics.

The term functional food first introduced in Japan in mid-1980’s and referred to processed food containing ingredients that aid specific body function in addition to being nutritious. Currently there is no universally accepted term for functional food. However, functional foods are generally considered as those food which are intended to be consumed as part of normal diet and that contain biologically active component which offer potential of enhanced health or reduced risk of disease.

Functional foods are generally rich source of minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and dietary fiber. Functional food can also be processed with biologically active substances such as nutraceuticals, phytochemicals or other antioxidants and probiotics. Nutraceuticals are the extracts of functional foods.

Functional foods can be classified as

  1. Probiotics: These are the live bacteria that improve gut health, prevent lactose intolerance and constipation. They also provide some essential vitamins (B9, B12) in the body.
  2. Conventional food: This include whole food like whole cereal grains and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. They are rich source of vitamins, antioxidants, fibers and minerals.
  3. Designed food: They are nutraceuticals incorporated foods and are designed for boosting specific body functions and help with diseases like heart disease, diabetes mellitus and cancer.

Example of functional foods:

Functional component

Functional food

Potential benefit

1.      Catrotenoids

α – carotene

β – carotene




Fruits and vegetables



Neutralize free radicals which may cause damage to cells

Reduces risk of prostate cancer

2.      Dietary fiber

Insoluble fiber

β – Glucan


Wheat bran

Oat, rye


Reduces risk of breast or colon cancer

Reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases

3.      Omega- 3 fatty acidFish oil , walnutsReduces risk of cardiovascular diseases

Improve mental and visual function

4.      Conjugated linoleic acidsCheese, meat productsImprove body composition, reduce risk of certain cancer
5.      Flavonoids






Fruits (berries)



Fruits and vegetables

Neutralize free radicals and reduce risk of cancer




About Author

Name : Pratiksha Shrestha


Ms. Shrestha holds masters degree in food engineering and bioprocess technology from Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Thailand. She is currently working for Government of Nepal at Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), Kathmandu. She is also a teaching faculty in College of Applied food and Dairy Technology (CAFODAT) affiliated to Purbanchal university, Nepal.