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Case Study

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Functional foods, foods of the future?

The science of nutrition could break new ground with the creation of 'functional foods'. But fundamental research should be carried out before any can be launched.

 

 

Functional foods contain an ingredient - a micronutrient or a naturally occurring chemical - which has been shown to confer health benefits, such as reducing the probability of contracting certain diseases. The key word is not so much prevention as risk-reduction. The potential is huge, with some estimating a market worth 25 billion early this century.
Many scientists, however, remain cautious. It is not enough to demonstrate that a particular food has an effect on a particular physiological or biological function. Before any 'functional claims' for a food can be made, the precise relationship between the specific nutrients and the related function - and possibly pathologies - must be understood and controlled.
"While we can now see links between certain fats and cardiovascular disease, or between calcium and osteoporosis, we must understand the exact conditions that promote the protective or therapeutic effect of a specific foodstuff," explains Marcel Roberfroid, Professor at the School of Pharmacy of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL-Belgium). "We cannot launch functional foods based on unverified theories."
Hence the FUFOSE (Functional Food Science in Europe) concerted action project, which Professor Roberfroid coordinates. The aim: to identify current knowledge in this area and highlight any gaps requiring further research.

European Networking
FUFOSE has established ten working groups, made up of 54 researchers from 10 EU countries. Between them the groups cover six priority areas in the field of human physiology: the gastro-intestinal system; defence against the reactive species of oxygen; the cardio-vascular system; the metabolism of substrates and metabolic diseases; development, growth and differentiation; psychological functions and behaviour.
Their goal is to verify hypotheses as varied as the effect of antioxidants against certain forms of cancer and the long-term benefits of consuming certain poly-unsaturated fatty acids at an early age. By pooling the resources of so many countries and researchers, the network will accelerate the appearance of functional foods based on sound scientific principles, to the benefit of all Europeans.

       
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