The main role of diet is to provide enough nutrients to meet the requirements of a balanced diet, while giving the consumer a feeling of satisfaction and well-being. The most recent knowledge in bioscience supports the hypothesis that diet also controls and modulates various functions in the body, and, in doing so, contributes to the state of good health necessary to reduce the risk of some diseases. It is such an hypothesis which is at the origin both of the concept of ‘functional food’ and the development of a new scientific discipline of ‘functional food science’. In the context of this paper the potential ‘functional foods’ to be discussed are the prebiotics and the synbiotics. The prebiotics developed so far are the non-digestible oligosaccharides and especially the non-digestible fructans among which chicory fructans play a major role. The chicory fructans are β (2-1) fructo-oligosaccharides classified as natural food ingredients. They positively affect various physiological functions in such a way that they are already or may, in the future, be classified as functional food ingredients for which claims of functional effects or of disease risk reduction might become authorized. They are classified as prebiotic and have been shown to induce an increase in the number of bifidobacteria in human faecal flora. As part of a synbiotic-type product, they are already bifidogenic at a dose of 2·75 g/d and the effect lasts for at least 7 weeks. The other potential functional effects are on the bioavailability of minerals, but also, and more systemically, on the metabolism of lipids. Potential health benefits may concern reduction of the risk of intestinal infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and cancer. However, except for the prebiotic effect, and tentatively the improvement of calcium bioavailability, the evidence to support such effects is still missing in humans though hypotheses already exist to justify nutrition studies.