Nutraceuticals are food products that are supposed to prevent or have notable effect upon illnesses or medical conditions.
Some sources distinguish functional from nutraceutical foods by saying that the former enhance physical or mental well being, but do not prevent or treat disease. However, many functional foods have enough effect upon wellness to be considered nutraceutical. Again, positioning is key: A package of ginseng tea may be perceived by the consumer as a flavor of tea—unless packaging and advertising clearly announce ginseng’s effects upon memory, or its stimulation of the immune system.
Tradition also plays a role in what is termed functional or nutraceutical. A case in point: Americans have long consumed carrot juice for its high vitamin A content. But marketers of canned carrot juice generally do not position on the nutraceutical value, but on basic nutritional value—whether the product is being purchased as a basic necessity or for the prevention or treatment of a medical condition.
While “nutraceutical” is currently the preferred industry term, “functional” is winning out in the consumer arena—on the few occasions when the average citizen attempts to distinguish basically healthful foods from those with medical value.