History of food science

1920 – 1960

  • Discovery of vitamins
  • World War 2 was a major concern since the UK was an island relying on food imports and rationing was inevitable. A knowledge of the quantitative nutrient requirements was needed
  • Formal definition of ‘requirements’ devised, in relation to vitamins, essential nutrition – minimum required to avoid serious disease
  • Recommended daily allowance (RDA) introduced


  • Research into ‘optimal’ nutrition as opposed to ‘essential’ nutrition
  • Dietary guidelines introduced which also included targets for Fat, salt, sugar, fibre and energy
  • Research into micronutrients that were optimal for health

1980 – present day

  • Optimal now transposed to essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals)
  • New concept – intake levels of vitamins and minerals which optimises health
    • Optimises some biological physiological function
    • Optimises some risk factor for a chronic disease
    • Minimises incidence of a disease

Old Concept – RDA prevents deficiency symptoms – Folic Acid – Macrocytic anaemia

New Concept – Optimises body stores of the nutrient.

  • Maximises some biochemical or physiological function (one carbon transferred)
  • Minimizes some risk factor for a chronic disease (Plasma Homocysteine)
  • Minimises incidence of disease (neural tube defects)

Old Concept – Vitamins E,C,A – The RDA prevents various deficiency symptoms

New Concept – These vitamins act as antioxidants and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer

1995 – To Present

  • Food based dietary guidelines introduced – For both Micro and Macro nutrients
  • Food pyramid invented

By 1990 the term RDA was altered since it was deemed inappropriate, a ‘nanny term’ different countries introduced different terms:-

UK – Dietary Reference Value (DRV)

US – Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)

EU – Population Reference Intake (PRI)

2000 – Present

  • Safe upper limits were derived due to ‘more is better’ fear of excessive consumption of supplements.
  • Manufactures adding micronutrients and marketing as their product is superior.
  • Each micronutrients level developed by a case-by-case basis
  • Excess limits takes into account toxicology
  • Intakes below the upper limit are known to be without risk
  • Europeans more cautious than the US and have lower acceptable levels

1990 to Present

  • Emergence of the concept of ‘functional foods’
  • A food designed to provide a function above the mere provision of the nutrients.
    • A yoghurt with pro-biotic bacteria aiding immune function
    • A margarine with an ingredient which lowers plasma cholesterol
  • Big money in functional foods especially for large food manufactures, non -nutrient components could be patentable, but not individual vitamins.  

2004 – Present

Health claims on food now legally have to be classified as:-

  • Compositional ( i.e rich in calcium)
  • Functional ( i.e Maintains healthy bones)
  • Disease Prevention ( i.e reduces the risk of Osteoporosis)

The product also has to be healthy, so despite research into dark chocolate and its benefits due to it being deemed unhealthy, it would not be approved for any health claim labelling.