Functional Foods

Chloe McClanahan

Dietary Bioactives

Beyond meeting essential nutritional needs, functional foods promote better health by reducing the risk of chronic disease such as coronary heart disease and cancer, improving cognitive health, and managing weight.1 A popular example of a natural functional food is oats. Oats contain high levels of β-Glucan, which reduces serum-LDL. A daily portion of 60 grams of oatmeal has been proven to result in an up to 5% reduction in serum cholesterol.2 Others, classified as functional foods, include tea (catechins), yogurt (calcium and probiotics), super fruits such as cranberry, grapes and pomegranate (antioxidants, carotenoids, (pro-) anthocyanidins, resveratrol, tannins and flavonoids), tomatoes (lycopene), and chocolate (flavanols).

Added or modified functional foods are processed foods with added supplements. These supplements, frequently called nutraceuticals, are often derived from natural food sources and added to other foods to promote health. Examples are high-fiber foods, fruit juice with added vitamins or calcium, margarine with plant stanol or sterol esters (for lowering cholesterol), and energy drinks containing guarana and/or taurine.

In recent years a third category has emerged: genetically enhanced foods with improved nutritional value. Examples include tomatoes with higher levels of lycopene.

Fuelled by health-conscious consumers, functional foods are now a major trend in the food industry and are estimated to reach a global value of $30 Billion by 2014.3,4 However, the term functional food is not regulated. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) defines functional foods as foods with a potential health benefit when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels. Other countries have similar positions.5 Nowadays, the significance of functional foods is growing rapidly in nutrition research and food science. Many claims about the health benefits of functional foods still need to be supported by scientific and clinical evidence. Studies are now ongoing to prove clinical effectiveness as well as to establish optimal levels and toxicology of bioactive components. Some phytochemicals heralded for their cancer preventing properties have been shown to be carcinogenic at high concentrations, such as isoflavones from soy.6 More scientific and clinical research is required to fully understand how functional foods and their bioactive components can be used to promote general health. Functional foods are an exciting trend in food science, nutrition research, and the food industry with a potential to play a role in improving public health.

We offer a unique portfolio to support and expand the knowledge base of functional foods, consisting of well-defined phytochemicals, fiber and prebiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins. As well as stable isotope labeled products, including omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, for use as tracers in nutritional pathways.

Fiber and Prebiotics

Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary fibers (typically consisting of oligosaccharides) that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of bacteria present in the colon. Recent publications support a role for prebiotics in reducing the risk and severity of gastro-intestinal infection (GI), inflammation and Irritable Bowel Disease. Prebiotics also increase the bioavailability and uptake of minerals (calcium). Prebiotics have a beneficial effect on the glucose metabolism and data suggest they reduce the risk of obesity by promoting satiety and weight loss.7,8 Prebiotics can be found in milk (galactooligosaccharides or GOS) and in plants with dietary fibers, such as inulin in chicory and Jerusalem artichoke (fructooligosaccharides or FOS). Prebiotics are frequently used as additives in functional foods.

Insoluble Fiber

Cellulose powder, a key source of dietery insoluble fiber, is purified from wood pulp.

Soluble Fiber, Including Prebiotics

The chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) is a source of inulin and fructooligosaccharides for prebiotic treatments.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The health-beneficiary effects of omega-3-fatty acids are manifold and include cardiovascular protection, anti-inflammatory effects, chemoprotection, and improved cognitive health.9 Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, nuts, and fatty fish (salmon and cod). Recent studies have concentrated on the molecular targets and modulatory activities of omega-3 fatty acids. Anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to include reducing the production of proinflammatory lipid mediators as well as the production of proinflammatory cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, TNF-α). They also inhibit COX-2, which in turn results in lower production of prostaglandins at the inflammatory sites (1). In addition, a popular dietary supplement, flaxseed, which is rich in omega-3 as well as lignan phenolics, has been shown to modulate gene expression pathways including the JAK-STAT transcription, mTOR, phosphatidylinositol, and Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling pathways.10 Exciting new developments suggest dietary fish oil supplementation can modulate miRNA expression. When induced by carcinogens, fish oil-fed rats appeared to be protected from miRNA dysregulation suggesting the nutritional bioactives in fish oil exert their chemoprotective effects through modulation of miRNA expression.11

Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) has a high content of omega-3 fatty acids.


Vitamins are essential to life and healthy living. Vitamin deficiency can be health threatening and even result in death. Moreover, most vitamins have a considerable potential in health promotion and disease treatment. Vitamin D for example has sparked a lot of interest recently for its role in cancer prevention and reducing the risk of Alzheimer′s disease. Humans require 13 vitamins,: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C) with a number of them having analogs, such as tocotrienol and tocopherol (Vitamin E analogs). Tocotrienols possess powerful neuroprotective, anticancer, and cholesterol lowering properties not exhibited by tocopherols and Vitamin E. Tocotrienols are, therefore, growing in popularity as therapeutic agents in cancer, bone resorption, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases at both preclinical and clinical levels.

Young plants of spring barley (Hordeum vulgare) are a signicant source of vitamins C and E.

Vitamin A

Vitamin B

Vitamin C

Vitamin D

Vitamin E

Vitamin K


Claire MH. Functional Foods: Their Role in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. [Internet].[updated 15 Feb 2020]. Available from:
Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJ. 2011. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat ?-glucan. 69(6):299-309.
The Competitive Landscape, consumer trends and health science advances shaping the market. PricewaterhouseCooper report. Nutraceuticals Product Market: Global Market Size, Segment and Country Analysis And Forecasts (2007-2017).. [Internet]. Available from:
2009. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Functional Foods. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 109(4):735-746.
Nakamura H, Wang Y, Kurita T, Adomat H, Cunha GR, Wang Y. Genistein Increases Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Signaling and Promotes Tumor Progression in Advanced Human Prostate Cancer. PLoS ONE. 6(5):e20034.
Andres S, Abraham K, Appel KE, Lampen A. 2011. Risks and benefits of dietary isoflavones for cancer. Critical Reviews in Toxicology. 41(6):463-506.
Brownawell AM, Caers W, Gibson GR, Kendall CWC, Lewis KD, Ringel Y, Slavin JL. 2012. Prebiotics and the Health Benefits of Fiber: Current Regulatory Status, Future Research, and Goals. 142(5):962-974.
Roberfroid M, Gibson GR, Hoyles L, McCartney AL, Rastall R, Rowland I, Wolvers D, Watzl B, Szajewska H, Stahl B, et al. 2010. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. Br J Nutr. 104(S2):S1-S63.
Visioli F, Giordano E, Nicod NM, Dávalos A. Molecular Targets of Omega 3 and Conjugated Linoleic Fatty Acids ? ?Micromanaging? Cellular Response. Front. Physio.. 3
Dukes F, Kanterakis S, Lee J, Pietrofesa R, Andersen ES, Arguiri E, Tyagi S, Showe L, Amrani Y, Christofidou-Solomidou M. 2012. Gene expression profiling of flaxseed in mouse lung tissues-modulation of toxicologically relevant genes. BMC Complement Altern Med. 12(1):
Davidson LA, Wang N, Shah MS, Lupton JR, Ivanov I, Chapkin RS. 2009. n -3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids modulate carcinogen-directed non-coding microRNA signatures in rat colon. 30(12):2077-2084.