Diet, Immunity and Functional Foods

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Functional foods (specific nutrient and/or food components) should beneficially affect one or more target functions in the body. The use of functional foods as a form of preventive medicine has been the subject of much research over the last two decades. It is well known that nutrition plays a vital role in chronic diseases, but it is only recently that data relating to the effects of specific nutrients or foods on the immune system have become available. This chapter aims to summarize the effects of some functional foods (e.g., prebiotics and micronutrients) on the immune system. It should be noted, however, that studies into the role of functional foods with regard to the human immune system are still in their infancy and a great deal of controversy surrounds the health claims attributed to some functional foods. Consequently, thorough studies are required in human and animal systems if we are to move towards developing a functional diet that provides maximal health benefits.