Functional Food – Where do we go?


The term „functional food“ is defined as whole food, food supplement, enriched or fortified food with beneficial health effects when consumed as part of a regular diet. Currently no legal definition exists for functional food. Besides traditional expectations from food, consumers are nowadays demanding foods that support wellness and energy, promote intestinal health, manage weight, stimulate immunity and improve brain function, to mention just a few examples. The worldwide market for such products is growing as the food industry is advertising positive health aspects while the consumers with their busy lifestyle want healthy food products with great taste and ultra-convenient use. The majority of the consumers in industrialized countries do not even have time to eat an apple following the advice „an apple a day keeps the doctor away“.

“…the food and nutrition scientific community is challenged to analyze potential beneficial health effects with independent scientific methods”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approves health claims on food labels when based on substantial scientific evaluations. The situation in Europe is similar where an EU register on nutrition and health claims has been established that defines evidence-based health claims.

Not too surprisingly, most foods can be defined as functional because they provide energy and essential nutrients. However, there is growing evidence that some food constituents, which are not considered as nutrients in the classical way, may provide positive health effects. In this context the food and nutrition scientific community is challenged to analyze potential beneficial health effects with independent scientific methods under realistic conditions, addressing, e.g. mode of action, bioavailability, efficacy, and metabolism, but also any adverse effects. However, for the purpose of demonstrating health benefits, cell culture experiments with supra-physiological doses of any component are by far not sufficient and such manuscripts will no longer be considered for publication in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research (MNF).

Besides the scientific evidence for potential health effects of functional food products, the relevant question is if whether such products deserve a place in a balanced and varied diet. This question arises from the results of the National Food Consumption Study II, published by the Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food, Karlsruhe, Germany. Evaluation of representative consumption data of more than 13,700 participants showed that almost one quarter of the German consumers use dietary supplements. Consumers using supplements are in many cases far above the reference plasma levels for certain nutrients. For example, in the case of vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and C, the mean plasma concentrations are approximately twice the reference value [1].

Several papers dealing with the potential health aspects of food constituents have been published over the past year in MNF, ranging from effects of dietary polyphenols on sugar absorption and digestion [2], effects of polyphenols on neuroregulatory factors [3], and the use of curcumin for treating diabetes [4] to lipidomics applications in health, disease and nutrition research [5], to mention just a few review papers as examples. Besides these papers, MNF published several special issues dealing with Folate and Health (Issue 4, 2013), Cocoa and Human Health (issue 6, 2013), Lipidomics (issue 8, 2013) and Curcumin (issue 9, 2013). We will continue with a special focus series on nutrients in 2014, starting with a special issue on vitamin K edited by Maret Traber as Guest Editor.

After the slight decrease of the ISI Impact Factor in 2011, MNF is back on track with an IF of 4.31 in 2012 and a 5-Year IF of 4.89. We are very happy with this progress and hope to continue the upward trend.

We would like to thank the authors, senior editors, members of the editorial board, reviewers and the former Editor in Chief, Peter Schreier, for their substantial contribution to ensure scientific quality and success of MNF. We also thank Chris Mayer and all other coworkers from the publisher for their support in all administrative questions and a fruitful and helpful collaboration.


Hans-Ulrich Humpf

University of Münster


Claus Schneider

Vanderbilt University

Medical School


Jan Frederik Stevens

Oregon State University