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Emphasis on food is shifting from nutrition to function

Scientific research has typically focused on the primary role of food as a source of energy and nutrients to build up the body. However, in recent years there has been a shift towards the impact that certain food components can have on human health. There has been a wealth of research to support the idea that diet and lifestyle contribute to health and may play a role in some human diseases.

The concept of food being linked to human health is not new and has been reported throughout history. During the 20th century vitamins were identified and the impact they have on the human body was examined. The link between both under-nutrition and over-nutrition on health and well-being became a major focal point. As science and research have progressed there has been growing evidence to suggest a link between diet and disease, with these links being well documented and reported in the media. As such, there has been a shifting emphasis from the role of food for the satisfaction of hunger and survival, to the function of food in the improvement of health and the reduction of disease. This has led to the development of functional foods.

Developing food for functionality was an idea that first originated in Japan in the 1980s. An increase in the elderly population in the country led to an increase in the diseases associated with aging. The government started to look at ways that the health of the elderly in Japan could be improved and healthcare costs could be cut. This led to a national research project looking into food and functionality. Since its beginnings, functional foods have become a trend in diet and nutrition around the world, particularly within developed economies.

For more information, take a look at our case study ‘Functional Foods: Growth of a niche market

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