Volume 79, Number 4 July/August 2008
Increased consumer interest in improving overall health and reducing risk for specific diseases has fueled the demand for foods and beverages that provide health benefits beyond their traditional nutritional value (i.e., so-called functional foods) (1,2). Although most Americans (80%) rate their health as “excellent,” “very good,” or “good,” significantly fewer (59%) are satisfied with their health status, according to the 2008 International Food Information Council (IFIC)’s survey on Consumer Attitudes Toward Food, Nutrition & Health (2). This gap indicates that even though many Americans consider themselves to be healthy, they also believe that there is room for improvement (1). In fact, more Americans today (67%) are making changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet than in 2006 (57%) (1).
Consistent with consumers’ efforts to improve the healthfulness of their diets, there is growing interest in consuming functional foods or beverages to improve heart health, digestive/gastrointestinal health, immune function, and overall health and wellness, among other benefits (1).
According to a 2007 IFIC survey on functional foods/foods for health, more than 80% of survey participants said that they are currently consuming or would be interested in consuming foods or beverages with added health benefits (1). When asked to name the top functional foods that they would be interested in consuming for desired health benefits, consumers ranked milk third (1).
The dairy industry has responded to consumers’ awareness of and interest in functional foods by enhancing the already healthful attributes of milk, yogurt, and cheese with specific physiologically active components (3-5). Examples include omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols/stanols for cardiovascular health and probiotics and prebiotics for digestive health. An increasing number of value added dairy products tailored to meet the needs of specific age groups from young childhood to older adulthood are available in the U.S. dairy case (4).
Consumer interest in improving overall health and reducing the risk for specific diseases has increased demand for foods and beverages that provide health benefits beyond their inherent nutritional value (i.e., functional foods).
This Digest discusses functional foods for health in general, and value added dairy foods designed to protect heart health, improve digestive/gastrointestinal health, and provide other health benefits. Several value added dairy products are identified as examples only and are not intended to be an endorsement.
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