A food can be regarded as 'functional' if it can demonstrate a beneficial efficacy on one or more target functions in the body in a convincing way. Beyond adequate nutritional qualities, functional foods should either improve the state of health and wellbeing and/or reduce the risk of disease.

Functional foods that are marketed with claims of heart disease reduction focus primarily on the major risk factors, i.e. cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension. Some of the most innovative products are designed to be enriched with 'protective' ingredients, believed to reduce risk.

They may contain, for example, soluble fibre (from oat and psyllium), useful both for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, or fructans, effective in diabetes. Phytosterols and stanols lower LDL-cholesterol in a dose-dependent manner. Soya protein is more hypocholesterolaemic in subjects with very high initial cholesterol and recent data indicate also favourable activities in the metabolic syndrome.

n-3 Fatty acids appear to exert significant hypotriacylglycerolaemic effects, possibly partly responsible for their preventive activity.

Dark chocolate is gaining much attention for its multifunctional activities, useful both for the prevention of dyslipidaemia as well as hypertension. Finally, consensus opinions about tea and coffee have not emerged yet, and the benefits of vitamin E, garlic, fenugreek and policosanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of arterial disease are still controversial.