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CARVALHO, Patrícia G B de; MACHADO, Cristina Maria M; MORETTI, Celso Luiz and FONSECA, Maria Esther de N. Vegetable crops as functional food. Hortic. Bras. [online]. 2006, vol.24, n.4, pp. 397-404. ISSN 0102-0536. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0102-05362006000400001.
Although a very old concept, the relationship between food and health has never been as close as it is today. Diets rich in fat, salt, and sugar and poor in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in association with a more sedentary lifestyle, are responsible for an increase in diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, hypertension, osteoporosis, and cancer. It is believed that the ingestion of fruits and vegetables helps in the prevention of these diseases. Vegetables are an important component of the diet, usually in association with protein- and starch-rich foods. They are responsible not only for adding variety of color and texture to meals, but also for providing important nutrients. Vegetables are low fat and low calorie foods, with relatively small amounts of protein, but they are rich in carbohydrates and fibers and add significant amounts of micronutrients to the human diet. They are also a source of functional substances, which might benefit one or more physiological functions in the body, besides adequate nutritional effects. Functional elements might play a role in improving health and well-being, as well as reducing the risk of the onset of diet-related diseases. The development of vegetable cultivars with greater amounts of these substances is one of the main goals of modern breeding programs. Many of these programs, working on different vegetables, are currently underway in Brazil and other countries, aiming to improve the amount and variety of carotenoids present in the diet. In the present paper, the main aspects of vegetable crops as functional foods are discussed. The most important achievements of tomato and carrot breeding programs in Brazil aiming to improve the amount and types of functional compounds are also presented.
Keywords : vegetables; functional substances; carotenes; plant breeding.