What is meant by ‘natural functional foods’?

Very often we hear about functional foods. But what is meant by functional food?

Functional foods are foods that, in addition to their basic nutritional characteristics, demonstrate properties which are beneficial and protective for the body and therefore should be included – judiciously – in the daily diet.

In 1999 in the British Journal of Nutrition a number of researchers observed that:

“A food can be regarded as ‘functional’ if it is satisfactorily demonstrated to affect beneficially one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects, in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduction of risk of disease. The beneficial effects could consist both in maintaining and promoting a state of well-being or health and/or reducing the risk of a pathological process or disease.”

Compared to traditional foods, this type of food contains essential components capable of having totally positive effects.

However, they should be distinguished from (and not confused with) supplementary and/or fortified foods or those defined as dietary which are not intended for healthy individuals but for people with particular diseases with a specific medical treatments .

In 1991, furthermore, the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare established criteria for identifying and approving a specific food category called FOSHU (Food for Specified Health Uses) also regulating nutrition labelling. 

In Japan traditional functional foods are considered as a separate category of foods, while in Europe, when it comes to functional food, it means adding functionality to an already existing traditional product as there is no specific legislation on this category of food or its labelling.

Two categories of functional foods have been identified:

  • Type A: foods that improve a specific physiological function beyond their specific role in body growth and development and have no role in the treatment of diseases or pathological states;
  • Type B: foods that reduce the risk of disease.

Among the various functional foods, we should highlight nuts, such as walnuts. They are rich in unsaturated fatty acids and thus contribute to keep blood cholesterol level normal. In fact, 100g of walnuts contains about 60g of unsaturated fatty acids.

According to LARN, the recommended daily quantity of nuts is 30g.

The combination of walnuts and yoghurt, in this case, could turn out to be an excellent alternative for a tasty breakfast as part of a varied diet because it combines probiotics (live microorganisms with a beneficial impact on the body because of its beneficial action on the intestinal tract) with unsaturated fatty acids, which are essential nutrients for proper nutrition.

Dott.ssa Nicolí Mariagrazia – Nutritionist


  • Diplock A.T. et al: Scientific concepts of functional foods in Europe: Consensus Document, British Journal of Nutrition 1999
  • Nutsforlife edizioni, Buccella Francesca
  • Alimento funzionale su Enciclopedia Britannica
  • Sinu.it