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Functional foods are foods that provide health benefits in addition to basic nutrition. They are categorized through identification, characterization, and evaluation of the health-promoting properties they present. New high-value nutrition and wellness products, manufactured by reformulation of existing products through development of nutraceutical or functional foods, present an exciting opportunity for the food industry worldwide. Many bioactive constituents to which a beneficial physiological function has been directly or indirectly attributed, originating mainly from plant extracts, have been incorporated in already existing food products or have been commercialized in the form of pharmaceutical products such as pills, capsules, solutions, and gels (Esp´ın et al. 2007). The global market for nutraceuticals is expected to reach €200 billion (USD264.4 billion) in 2013, with a compound growth rate of 7.4%. There have been a number of key drivers for this unprecedented growth rate, including the increase in world population and changes in the demographics of that population (particularly the increase in the aging population), advances in the understanding of the relationship between diet and health, increase in diet-related diseases, and the demand for health and wellness food products across the life course, from childhood to old age (Espin et al. 2007).
This situation has created a surge of research activity in identifying new ingredients and raw materials with beneficial health properties for the development of functional foods from both terrestrial and marine sources. Marine algae have been identified as a major potential source for growth in the functional food sector. The world seaweed industry is estimated to be worth €4.2–4.5 billion (USD5.5– 5.9 billion) annually, with €3.8 billion (USD5 billion) being generated from products destined for human consumption and the remainder from hydrocolloids and miscellaneous products (Walsh & Watson 2011).
Seaweeds (macroalgae) are still considered an underexploited plant resource despite being used in diets and traditional remedies for centuries (Heo et al. 2009). Seaweeds are often referred to as being a treasure house of novel healthy food ingredients and biologically active compounds, due to their phenomenal biodiversity (Kadam & Prabhasankar 2010; Gupta & Abu-Ghannam 2011a). Green, brown, and red seaweeds are an outstanding source of biologically active phytochemicals such as carotenoids, phycobilins, fatty acids, polysaccharides, vitamins, sterols, tocopherol, and phycocyanin, all of which are associated with a number of biological activities, such as antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, and antioxidant effects, in addition to potential benefits in the control of hyperlipidemia, thrombosis, tumor, and obesity (Vairappan et al. 2001; Duan et al. 2006; Cox et al. 2010). Moreover, seaweeds are a rich source of dietary fiber (DF), with a content ranging from 33 to 50 g/100 g dry basis (d.b.), placing them as an important candidate in the development of new functional foods characterized by a low glycemic index (GI) or in the supplementation and enrichment of already existing foods indentified as being low in DF content.
The environment in which seaweeds grow is harsh, as they are exposed to a combination of light and high oxygen concentrations. These factors can lead to the formation of free radicals and other strong oxidizing agents but seaweeds seldom suffer any serious photodynamic damage during metabolism. This fact implies that their cells possess some protective antioxidative mechanisms and compounds (Matsukawa et al. 1997). Motivated by these observations, many researchers have focused in recent years on marine algae and their constituents as sources of nutraceuticals and functional foods for potential health promotion, mostly attributed to their omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and other bioactive components (Shahidi 2009).
Abu-Ghannam, N., & Cox, S. (2013). Seaweed-based Functional Foods. Wiley. DOI: 10.21427/TTZX-E850
Accepted version of a chapter in Bioactive Compounds from Marine Foods: Plant and Animal Sources published by Wiley, 2013.