One of the earliest examples of a functional food  is vitamin-D fortified milk.

One of the earliest examples of a functional food — a food that provides benefits beyond basic nutrition — is vitamin-D fortified milk. Addition of vitamin D to fluid milk started back in the 1930s when rickets, a bone-debilitating disease, was prevalent. Incidence was linked to a deficiency in the fat-soluble vitamin. Because milk was a highly consumed food, the medical community encouraged fortification.

Not all functional foods mitigate disease. They may deliver a myriad of purported benefits ranging from anti-aging to inducing satiety. Some provide energy while others promote relaxation. Some such foods are inherently functional. For example, a cup of brewed green tea is loaded with antioxidants, while others rely on the addition of functional ingredients.

“There’s no better product than dairy to carry functional ingredients,” said Steve King, founder, 3D Dairy Foods, Milwaukee, a product and brand business development company that focuses on the refrigerated dairy and prepared and packaged foods categories. “Dairy starts with a healthful halo, and additional ingredients build up its better-for-you profile.” (See related story on Page 46.)

Functional food ingredients generally are considered those ingredients intended to be consumed as part of the normal diet and contain biologically active components that offer the potential of enhanced health or reduced risk of disease, according to market research firm MarketsandMarkets, Dallas. In its new report, “Functional food ingredients market by type, application, health benefit and region — Global forecast to 2020,” North America was identified as the largest market for functional food ingredients in 2014. Asia-Pacific is projected to be the fastest-growing market from now until 2020, with the global functional food ingredients market projected to reach about $2.5 billion by 2020, growing 6% annually from 2015 to 2020.

Functional food ingredients may be as basic as vitamins and minerals to as complex as coenzyme Q10 and choline. The addition of such ingredients adds value to the food and creates a point of differentiation in the marketplace.

Taste, price and healthfulness continue to be the leading drivers of food-purchasing decisions, according to results from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s Food and Health Survey, which was released in early May. Whole grains top the list of what consumers are trying to get a certain amount or as much as possible of in their daily diet. This is followed by fiber, protein and calcium, with all three available in isolated ingredient formats.

Such isolated ingredients turn ordinary dairy foods into functional products that may help consumers improve overall health and wellness. There are several nutrients that are under consumed relative to recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report published in February. The shortfall nutrients include vitamins A, C, D and E, calcium, fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium. For adolescent and premenopausal females, iron also is a shortfall nutrient. Of the shortfall nutrients, calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium are classified as nutrients of public health concern because their under consumption has been linked in the scientific literature to adverse health outcomes.