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Functional foods: learn how to incorporate them into your diet

Have you ever heard of functional foods? In addition to having nutritional functions, these foods are responsible for producing metabolic and/or physiological effects that act in favor of health. Learning to incorporate them into your diet can help you achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Interested in the subject? Keep reading to clarify all your doubts about this type of food!

What are functional foods?

According to the nutrition specialist at Clínica Mais Excelência Médica, Thiago Santolim (CRM: 115.296), functional foods are “those that offer health benefits, in addition to having basic nutritional functions. For example, foods with a higher fiber content, such as oatmeal, whole grain bread and brown rice. They can help reduce chronic and degenerative diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.”

Functional foods, however, are different from foods considered fortified. “Fortified foods are those composed of nutrients in order to reinforce their nutritional value. For example, food fortified with calcium. This process often only replaces the amount of nutrients lost in food processing, making its nutritional value equal or even lower when compared to the product in its natural state”, explains Santolim.

It is important to emphasize that, to be considered functional, the food must meet the specific requirements of Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency), which is responsible for registering these products on the market. That is, it must contain a scientifically proven functional property.

Nutritionist clarifies doubts about functional foods

For most people, functional foods are synonymous with healthy foods. They are not, but when we talk about this subject, there are other factors to take into account. Santolim clarifies the main ones:

Are there industrialized functional foods? Yes, but you have to be aware of its real effectiveness. For them to take effect, it is essential to maintain a balanced diet and correctly follow the form of consumption detailed on the labels.

What are the best functional foods? Among the best functional foods are: oats, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, flaxseed, soy, fish in general, cherry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, purple grape, olive, avocado, olive oil, green tea and red wine.

Can functional foods be eaten at will? Anything lacking or in excess is bad for the body. Therefore, it is recommended that functional foods be consumed in the right amounts, following a menu prepared by a nutritionist.

What are nutraceuticals? They are known as “food in capsules”, since they are not consumed in their natural state. Nutraceuticals help prevent diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer and cardiovascular problems, in addition to bringing benefits to nails, skin and hair.

How to include nutraceuticals in the diet? Nutraceuticals can be included in the diet through teas or as dietary supplements in capsule form.

It is worth mentioning that functional foods are consumed in their natural form and, therefore, do not have contraindications. Nutraceuticals, as they contain active ingredients isolated in capsules, must be prescribed by a health professional through clinical evaluation and laboratory tests.

Types of functional foods

Now that you know what functional foods are, it’s time to get to know the main types. Check out:

  • Isoflavones: can be found in soy and its derivatives. This type of food produces estrogenic action and prevents cancer.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: help reduce cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory action. They are found in fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies, herring and sardines.
  • A – Linolenic acid: is an acid that stimulates the immune system and has anti-inflammatory action. It is present in almonds, walnuts and linseed, rapeseed and soybean oils.
  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids act in cancer prevention and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. They are present in citrus fruits, soybeans, tomatoes, peppers, cherries and artichokes.
  • Tannin: with antiseptic and antioxidant action, tannin can be found in apples, grapes, cashews, sage and basil.
  • Allyl sulfides: These are present in garlic and onions. They help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as improve the immune system and prevent gastric cancer.
  • Soluble and insoluble fibers: they are responsible for preventing colon cancer, improving bowel function, controlling blood glucose and treating obesity. They can be found in whole grains, legumes and vegetables with stalks.
  • Indoles and Isothiocyanates: Foods such as cauliflower, broccoli, radish and mustard contain indoles and isothiocyanates, enzyme inducers that prevent some types of cancer, especially breast cancer.
  • Catechins: reduce the risk of cancer and cholesterol, in addition to strengthening the immune system. Catechins are present in green tea, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, purple grapes, blueberries and red wine.
  • Prebiotics: activate the intestinal microfiber and favor the proper functioning of the intestine. They are extracted from vegetables such as chicory root and yacon potato.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics stimulate gastrointestinal functions and reduce the risk of constipation and colon cancer. They are present in fermented milks and yogurts.

As seen above, functional foods help prevent various types of diseases and contribute to a nutrient-rich diet. “We must remember that the consumption of these foods must be done in a balanced way and with water intake”, adds Santolim.

The nutritionist doctor also gives some tips for those who want to adopt a healthy eating routine: “Dedicate time only to meals, that is, no eating while looking at your cell phone or TV. It is also important to reduce the amount of salt in the dishes. To increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, choose a day of the week to go to the market with the purchases already planned”.

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only. They do not replace the advice and follow-up of doctors, nutritionists, psychologists, physical education professionals and other specialists.


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