What is the actual link between calcium and osteoporosis? And what is the precise role of fibre in a healthy intestine? Will the diet of the future be able to prevent cancer or cardiovascular diseases?
A team of 54 researchers from 10 EU countries have been working on a two-year project to answer these and other questions, and establish what is currently known about functional foods. They highlighted six areas where more in-depth research is needed.
These include the effect of probiotics and prebiotics on the gut, antioxidants and their role in defending against harmful reactions in the body that may help prevent diseases like cancer and heart diseases and risk factors of heart diseases which can be influenced through diet.
Other issues are those relating to metabolism, for example the role of food constituents during exercise, on obesity, adulthood diabetes and malnutrition, the long-term effects of diet during pregnancy, lactation and early development, the impact of foods on psychological functions (appetite, satiety, hyperactivity in children) and safety issues related to food constituents and additives.
The teams analysed for example the role of antioxidants in the struggle against certain forms of cancer, or the long-term benefits of the consumption at an early age of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids present in milk and meat.
Some of the reviews and the recommendations that scientists made have already been published. It is hoped that the findings of the European-funded project, FAIR-95-0572, will lead to systematic research on these areas and eventually benefit European consumers.
The conclusions have so far given way to two new research projects: Polybind on polyphenols, and Passclaim on the assessment of health claims on foods.