Nutraceuticals, Functional Foods And Dietary Supplements

There is no agreed international definition for Nutraceuticals, Functional foods and dietary supplements. Most times consumers mistake the term Nutraceuticals with functional foods and therefore use them interchangeably. However, In a strict sense, there is a little difference between the two. Nutraceuticals is a general term that covers both functional foods and dietary supplements.

Nutraceuticals was coined by Dr Stephen Defelice in the year 1989 and was defined as  any food or part of a food that provides medical and health benefits which includes the prevention and treatment of diseases.

The etymology of the word “Nutraceuticals” is from the 2 words “Nutrition and Pharmaceuticals” – according to Dr Stephen Defelice. Therefore, they are pharmaceuticals in the form of food or food in the form of pharmaceuticals.

Classification of Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals is a general term for all food or part of food that can contribute to the health of the consumer. Nutraceuticals exist in two forms, some in the form of food while others are the form of drugs. In that sense, Nutraceuticals have two classifications which includes;

  1. Functional foods
  2. Dietary supplements

Functional foods

Functional foods was first used by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) as ‘Foods for Specified Health Use’ FOSHU. It became a body in japan that regulates food that has any effect on the body.

However, Functional foods according to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are ‘foods that has an extra component incorporated in it to give an extra function different from the normal nutritional value. In a simpler language, It means drugs taken in the form of foods.

Functional foods are either enriched or fortified – a process known as nutrification. This process allows the incorporation of substances that will offer a better health benefits to the consumer to prevent or promote health.

In Japan, for a product to qualify as a functional food, it must possess 3 characteristics.

  1. It must be present in its natural form rather than a capsule, tablet or powder.
  2. Consumed in the diet as often as daily.
  3. Should regulate a biological functions in terms of preventing or controlling of diseases.

Most early production of functional foods was food products fortified with vitamins and minerals such as Chocolates and baby foods and iodination of salts to prevent goitre.

Subsequently, Many areas of food production enrich their products with so many substances that can improve health such as Probiotics in Yoghurts or fortification of energy drinks.

Dietary supplements

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education (DSHEA) Act of 1994, “A dietary supplement means a product taken orally (other than tobacco) to supplement a diet.  It bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients – A vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, enzymes, organ or tissues. Dietary supplements can only be used as an extract, concentrate,metabolite or combination but is not for use as a conventional food or as a sole item of a meal or diet”.

It simply means that dietary supplements can only exist as an extract or concentrate to supplement a diet but never as a sole item of a meal or a diet unlike the functional food that is served as a full meal.

In a simpler term, Dietary supplement is a part of food packaged in the form of a drug such as capsules, tablets, powders or teas.

Common examples of dietary supplements are Vitamin A & E capsules, Gingko biloba extracts, Omega-3 fish oil e.t.c.

Health benefits of some Nutraceuticals

Here, are a few common nutraceuticals in the market, Its source and the health benefits.There are many more products in the market with vast therapeutic uses and market value.

Nutraceuticals and functional foods


Nutraceuticals and functional foods has gained popularity in the market due to some certain reasons. The market for nutraceuticals is currently increasing and is to expand more as the year pass by according to predictions.

The major target market for nutraceuticals are the elderly who have commodities of diseases such as Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Arthritis, Post menopausal osteoporosis, Weight gain, Degenerative diseases, Atherosclerosis, to mention but a few.

These diseases require management rather than total cure, therefore, consumers find solace in Nutraceuticals as an alternative medicine that can help.

In other words, there is a wide acceptability of Nutraceuticals because consumers perceive it to be natural because it originates from animal or plant extracts. The phytochemicals in these plants are what offers the plants the special therapeutic functions.

However, it is important to place strict regulations and evaluation on Nutraceuticals and functional foods to avoid selling junks to consumers in the name of supporting and promoting health.