The U.S. is the largest consumer of functional foods, it was a 44 billion dollar market in 2012 and it’s increasing with at least 60 percent of people consuming functional foods, occasionally. IFT member Cathy Adams Hutt, PhD, RD CFS explains in the following video what a functional food is and how functional foods can contribute to a nutritious diet. By definition, a functional food is a typical food that has specific nutrients added to it like vitamins and minerals, to serve a specific purpose.

What is a functional food?
A functional food is a typical food that has specific nutrients added to it, like vitamins or minerals, fiber, or probiotics or prebiotics. In general, this includes anything added for a specific functional purpose.

Do all functional foods have added nutrients?
A functional food can have both naturally occurring ingredients that are then boosted or they can have nutrients that aren’t naturally found in them. For example, orange juice has potassium and food scientists can boost this to make it more of a functional food; or you can add calcium which wouldn’t normally be found in orange juice and make it functional in a different way.

Aren’t all foods functional in one way or another?
Absolutely! All foods have certain functions and some nutritional value, but functional foods have more specific and targeted nutritional value for physiological function than others.

Are functional foods better for you than other foods?
This really depends on a person’s specific nutritional intake. Functional foods can help fulfill nutritional deficiencies; if you’re not getting enough of a nutrient, you can consume a functional food to fulfill that need.

When shopping, how can you tell if a food may be a functional food?
They aren’t specifically labeled as functional foods but are often labeled with their functional ingredient. An item that is a functional food would  include a note about added nutrients on its ingredient statement; the Nutrition Fact Panel would also identify additional nutrients and their levels, as well as nutrient content claims like “good source of,” or “excellent source of,” a particular nutrient. A functional food may also have structure/function claims like if orange juice has added calcium the package may say “calcium builds strong bones.”

What does food science have to do with functional foods?
Food science enables us to make some functional foods that wouldn’t ordinarily be available. Knowing the science and chemistry of food and how ingredients interact helps us make some nutrients more readily available.

Source: IFT member Catherine Adams Hutt, PhD, RD, CFS

More Food Facts

The Microbiome: You are What You Eat

The microbiome is the genetic material of all our microbes—bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses - that live on and inside the human body. Microbes outnumber our human cells ten to one.

Dinner Party Tips and Tricks – Powered by Science

Have you been looking for a way to up your dinner party game? IFT Food Facts compiled results from some recent peer-reviewed studies to help you do just that – by incorporating science into your meal.

The New Nutrition Label

The new Nutrition Facts Label is based on updated food consumption data, nutrient recommendations, the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and consumer behavior trends. These updates are reflected in the changes required in the label design, nutrient list, and serving size.

More from IFT right arrow

Fortifying salt with micronutrients; Plant-based protein demand on the rise

News about food science research, food companies, food regulations, and consumer/marketplace trends

Nutrients From the Sea

This article reviews ingredients derived from seafood

Research Tool Helps Validate Efficacy of Functional Foods

Developed by researchers in Germany and Australia, the Fraunhofer-Monash workflow tool identifies bioactive compounds and degradation products in food from processing through consumption to assist in the formulation of healthier and safer products.

The Most Important Nut Is a Legume: The Peanut

Researchers at the University of Georgia ensure that peanuts stay plentiful and powerful.

Unlocking the Genomics of Lactic Acid Bacteria

Leading food science researchers discuss advances in lactic acid bacteria, probiotics, fermentation, and CRISPR genome editing that have transformed the fermented foods industry.


Episode 14: Exploring Rapid Expansion in the Alternative Protein Market

This episode discusses plant-based, cell-based, and fermentation technologies and explore both the challenges and opportunities to bring new products to market for an increasingly diverse consumer base seeking new alternatives to their diets.

Plant-based diets low in choline could impact brain health

A recent article published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, warns that individuals who favor plant-based and vegan diets may be lacking in choline, a nutrient essential for brain health.

Soybean compound may protect blood vessels of marijuana consumers

Research indicates that smoking marijuana may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. A recent study has determined that a compound in soybeans may mitigate that risk.