What’s Functional Food?


There are many different definitions of Functional Food.

To be consistent, the Vietnam Association of Functional Foods recommends the following definition: Functional foods are foods (or products) with or without nutrition that support (restore, maintain or strengthen) the function of parts of the body, make the body comfortable, increase the resistance and reduce the risk of disease.

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Common characteristics of Functional Foods

  1. Be produced according to a formula
  2. (Can) be removed disadvantages and added beneficial substances
  3. Have effect on one (or many) functions of body
  4. Be health benefits more than basic nutritional benefits.
  5. Be originated from nature such as: animals, plants, minerals
  6. Be fully evaluated on: quality, safety, efficiency.
  7. Can be used regularly and continuously without side effects.
  8. Product labels are according to labeling rules.

Some common names of Functional Food:

Supplemented Food: is a food which supplements vitamins/minerals/amino acids/fat acids/enzymes/probiotics/prebiotic/bioactive substances)

Distinguish functional foods and traditional foods

Functional foods are understood as the interference between food and drugs, so called Food-Drug.

The origin of functional foods: from plants and wildlife products, therefore, have the same origin with traditional medicine. For countries that do not have traditional medicine (also known as Oriental medicine), all forms of traditional medicine products are made more modern and changed into functional foods, functional products whose active ingredients, micronutrients level are at approximately the daily needs of the body.

The Vietnam Association of Functional Foods has issued the following specific criteria for comparison:

No. Criteria Tradional foods Functional foods
1 Function
  1. Provide nutrients
  2. Satisfy sensory needs
  3. Provide nutrients
  4. Sensory function.
  5. Superior health benefits (cholesterol lowering, blood pressure reduction, anti-constipation, intestinal flora improvement, etc.)
2 Processing Process according to the crude formula (not remove disadvantages) Process according to the refined formulas (supplement beneficial ingredients, remove disadvantages) which are scientifically proven and authorized by the competent authority
3 Energy High energy Less energy
4 Dosage Much Little
5 Uses All All;Target object: the elderly, children, menopausal women…
6 Source of material Raw materials from plants, animals (vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs…) which are natural origin Active ingredients, extracts from plants, animals (natural origin)
7 Time and method of use Often, throughout life.Difficult to use for the sick, elderly, who with special pathology Often, throughout life.There are products for special objects.

Distinguish Functional foods and Drugs

The Vietnam Association of Functional Foods has also made a very specific comparison between functional foods and drugs as follows:

No. Criteria Functional food Drug
1 Definiton Be a product which is used to support (restore, strengthen and maintain) the functions of organs, have nutritional effects, make the body comfortable, increase resistance and reduce risk of diseases. Be a substance or mixtures of substances for human for the purpose of disease prevention and treatment, diagnosis or adjustment of physiological functions, including finished drugs, drug materials, vaccines and medical biologicals, except for functional food.
2 Claims on label Be a Functional food (produced according to functional food rules) Be a drug (produced according to drug rules)
3 Substance quantity No more than 3 times the daily requirement of the body High
4 Label - Be a Functional food- Support functions of organs. - Be a drug;- Have information of indication, dosage, contraindication
5 Condition of use Consumers buy themselves at the market, supermarket Drug must be prescribed by the doctor
6 Uses - Patients- Healthy people - Patients
7 Condition of distribution Retails, supermarkets, direct sales, , multi-level marketing - Pharmacies which have to have pharmacists- Prohibition of multi-level marketing
8 Directions for use - Frequently, constantly.- No complications, no restriction - Termly- Risk of complication
9 Origin, material Natural origin - Natural origin- Synthetic origin
10 Efficiency Effect on many diseases, many organsNo negative effect Effect on specific diseaseHave negative effect

With the above content, hope readers have a clearer view of functional foods.


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