Karnal: India is a fast growing market for functional foods like pro-biotic yogurt and omega-3 health drinks, but their benefits should be scientifically verified, said a top Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) official.
"Functional foods have a huge potential in India but at the same time it needs to be ensured that their health benefits are scientifically tested and verified," ICMR Director General V M Katoch said at the 2nd international conference on functional dairy foods here.
Such foods influence specific functions in the body that may provide added health benefits or remedy from some disease, following the addition of a beneficial, or removal of a harmful, ingredient, he added.     

In the inaugural address of the four-day event which began on Wednesday, Katoch said that the need for functional foods should be driven by human needs rather than market forces.
National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) Director A K Srivastava said that India is the 10th biggest buyer of functional foods globally and there is a huge opportunity for the dairy industry in this segment.
"India's fast growing middle class and changing lifestyle are the key drivers of the growing market for functional foods especially dairy products like pro-biotic yogurt but it is still behind the global trends," Srivastava said.
According to a Ernst&Young-FICCI report published in 2009, the total market for nutraceuticals in India is growing at 21 percent per annum and is valued at Rs 4,400 crore.
Globally, the functional food market is estimated at USD 167 billion and is growing at 14 percent annually.     

Supporting Katoch, Srivastava said that one cannot prove the benefits of therapeutic food without solid scientific proofs.
Nestle India Technical Director Christian Schmid said that though functional food is one of the fastest growing segments in the food markets but in India it still needs a lot of support.
"India needs to simplify the regulatory framework of food testing which restricts commercial work in this segment," he said.
Delegates from around 20 countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland and the US are participating in the conference, which is being organised by NDRI and Dairy Technology Society of India (DTSI).