Functional Food: too much of a good thing?

Strictly speaking, all foods are “functional”: They serve to supply nutrients. By definition, the English term functional food refers to new foodstuffs that are intended to additionally promote health and are enriched with additional ingredients for this purpose: minerals, fibers, vitamins, trace elements, microorganisms. That sounds futuristic and fits the zeitgeist. The only question is whether there is a benefit behind it.

Functional foods are not new

Functionally, nothing new either. Seafarers discovered the connection between  vitamin C deficiency  and scurvy as early as the century before last. They knew how to avoid tooth loss, muscle atrophy, weight loss and bleeding by eating (dried) fruit and (pickled) vegetables.

European consumers have yet to become familiar with the many new products being sold as functional. For decades, the Japanese have had the choice of actively pursuing health care through the consumption of certain foods. The effect is visible. Japanese women are less likely to get  breast cancer than American or European women. In Japan, since 1993, foods with proven health-promoting ingredients have been awarded by the national health authorities.

Foshu oder Functional food?

In the meantime, more than 100 foods have received the coveted FOSHU label. New applications for the label must have one or more of the ingredients with scientifically recognized and study-proven positive effects on health. Individual proofs of the effect are no longer necessary. Therefore, the number of products marked as FOSHU is increasing rapidly. The articles range from tea containing calcium to  biscuits  against iron deficiency, vitamin drinks and ice cream   enriched with lactic acid bacteria and fibre.

In Japan, there are already edibles for beauty: drinks with  hyaluronic acid  or collagen for more beautiful skin, gingko chips that reduce stress and are said to improve health and appearance, and foods with stimulating substances. Europeans criticize the lack of strict control and selection during certification. In America, on the other hand, the market for Japanese FOSHU foods is booming.


Nine out of ten Swiss women are convinced that nutrition is important for health. The fact that knowledge does not protect against mistakes is shown by the fact that we still eat too much and too much fat. Modern nutritional science tries to lead people away from “appropriate” to “optimal” nutrition: Every woman and every man should eat food that meets their individual needs. Children and adolescents need sufficient vitamins for healthy growth and calcium for bone formation, hard physical workers more daily calories than someone who sits in front of the computer all week. Top athletes have to eat differently than older people.

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