The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is moving to become a national leader in the study and application of functional foods – those with health benefits beyond basic nutrition that may prevent and help treat disease.
A major financial commitment from the Esperance Family Foundation will help create and support a multidisciplinary center for functional food research and education at UConn\.
Examples of functional foods include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes rich in antioxidants and other bioactive compounds that may prevent or delay the onset of various diseases and chronic conditions.
Functional foods are now a nearly $30-billion annual market in the United States.
“Americans are obsessed with their health,” says Ian Hart, associate dean for research and advanced studies in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“If we can demonstrate to the public the benefits of eating certain foods through proven science – and not as a fad diet – there is tremendous potential in terms of the growth of research at the University, the growth of agriculture in the state, and improvement of public health in general.”
The planned center could make UConn one of the few schools across the nation with such a focus.
Professor Sung Koo, head of the nutritional sciences department, says it is important to integrate research with existing medical practice and consumer education.
“We will focus on research, technology transfer, curriculum development, and consumer education,” he says.
" We need to disseminate information about functional foods to consumers so they can be educated about modifying their dietary habits and food choices, and through translational medicine, we can connect basic research on functional foods to patient care, and nutritional and diet therapies.”