Functional Foods

Functional foods, also called nutraceuticals, contain a food component that affects targeted functions in the body in a positive way, as well as foods that have a potentially harmful component removed. Specific examples include foods with improved nutritional profiles and foods with enhanced processing characteristics.

Foods can be altered with biotechnology to improve their nutritional profiles. Improvements include increased levels of nutrients, vitamins, phytochemicals, and decreased levels of less desirable nutrients. Golden Rice has been enhanced with beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A. There are also soybean cooking oils bioengineered to contain less saturated fat. This type of oil is currently on the market.

Some future plans for foods in this area are protein-enhanced sweet potatoes and rice, high Vitamin A canola oil, and fruits and vegetables with increased antioxidant content. There is also ongoing development of a tomato that has three times the usual amount of vitamin A. The scientists developing this tomato hope this extra vitamin A will help prevent cancer and heart disease (2).

Another area of research and development in the functional food category is food products with enhanced processing characteristics. These characteristics aid in storage, transportation, preparation, and shelf-stability of food products.

Several examples of these foods are already on the market:

  • High-performance cooking oils: heat stable; high oleic or low linoleic
    1. On the Market: sunflower, peanut, and soybean
  • Delayed ripening fruits & vegetables: better flavor, color, texture & are firmer for shipping & stay fresh longer
    1. On the market: tomatoes
    2. Future: raspberries, strawberries, cherries, bananas, pineapples

Question: What response would you have if a client asked you what foods in the grocery store might be a product of biotechnology or contain biotechnology ingredients?