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Examples of Functional Foods

In the previous steps you have learnt what functional foods are and how they are related to our health. In this article, we show you two examples of functional foods that you can easily find in the supermarket to understand what these products are and why they are called functional foods.

Vegetable Fat Spread with Added Plant Sterols.

The first example is a vegetable fat spread with added plant sterols:

Flora Pro-activ butter actively lowers cholesterol Flora Pro-Activ Vegetable Fat Spread

In the list of ingredients of this product we can find: Water, Plant oils (30%) (sunflower, palm, linseed, rapeseed), plant sterol esters (11%) *, salt (1%), emulsifiers (mono-and diglycerides of fatty acids, sunflower lecitin), natural flavourings, vitamin A and D. *6,6 plant sterols/100 g

Among these ingredients, plant sterols esters is the functional ingredient of this food, but, what are plant sterols? And how do plant sterols work?

Plant sterols and stanols are a group of substances, similar to cholesterol, which occur in plants and vary only in carbon side chains and/or presence or absence of a double bond. Stanols are saturated sterols, having no double bonds in the sterol ring structure. More than 200 sterols and related compounds have been identified so far. Plant sterols and stanols work by reducing the absorption of cholesterol from the gut, thereby reducing blood cholesterol levels as stated in several clinical trials.

Therefore, the European Commission has approved a health claim for this functional ingredient:

plant sterols have been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.

A daily consumption of 1.5-2.4 g plant sterols can lower cholesterol by 7-10% in 2-3 weeks. In the case of this specific functional food, the preparation and usage recommended is: Three servings of this spread (30 g) gives you the daily amount of plant sterols (2.0 g) that is proven to lower cholesterol. Each 10 g serving of Flora Pro-activ spread contains 0.7 g of plant sterols.

However, as has been established by European Commission regulation, this product must include some warnings:

  • Check with your doctor first if you are already taking cholesterol lowering medication, or if you have especially dietary needs.
  • Not suitable for pregnant or breast-feeding women and child under 5.
  • Consumption of more than 3 g/day of added plant sterols or stanols should be avoided.

This product is not intended for people who do not need to control their blood cholesterol level.

Lactose Free Milk Enriched with Vitamin A and D

The second example is a milk lactose free enriched with calcium and vitamin A+D:

Lactose free milk carton enriched with vitamin A and D Lactose Free Milk

This example can be considered as a double functional food since it has been processed following a specific method to remove one of its components (lactose) and also has been supplemented with extra components (calcium and vitamin A+D).

Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products that is made up of two smaller sugar molecules, glucose and galactose. In order for lactose to be absorbed from the intestine, it must first be split into glucose and galactose.

Lactase is the enzyme that splits lactose into glucose and galactose, although some people lack sufficient amount of lactase and the lactose passes through their gastrointestinal tract unaltered. These people present lactose intolerance that may results in diarrhea, abdominal pain, and gas (flatulence). But being lactose intolerant is different to being allergic to milk!

Lactose-free milk has been developed with the aim that lactose intolerant people can consume milk without any problem. But, how is lactose-free milk made? The most common way is by adding the enzyme lactase to milk, which essentially predigests the sugar into glucose and galactose so that lactose is not present anymore in the milk you drink.

In this example, the milk is also supplemented with calcium and vitamins A and D. Calcium is a key nutrient that the body uses to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong with the age, send messages through the nervous system, help the blood clot, the muscles contract, and regulate the heart’s rhythm. Besides, vitamin D allows the body to absorb calcium.

The European Commission has approved several health claims for calcium and vitamin D, as an example we could highlight:

Calcium and vitamin D help reduce mineral bone loss in postmenopausal women. Low mineral bone density is a risk factor for bone fractures resulting from osteoporosis.

They propose that at least 1200 mg of calcium and 800 I.U. of vitamin D from all sources should be consumed daily for a reduction of the risk of bone fracture. The target population is women 50 years and older.

Calcium and vitamin D are necessary for normal bone growth and development in children.

Finally, this milk is also fortified with vitamin A, which is involved in immune function, vision, reproduction, or cellular communication.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Food Science

EIT Food