, Volume 11, Issue 2-3, pp 227-244
Date: 19 May 2012

Bioactive compounds in legumes: pronutritive and antinutritive actions. Implications for nutrition and health

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Abstract

Legume seeds are employed as a protein source for animal and human nutrition not only for their nutritional value (high in protein, lipids and dietary fibre), but also their adaptability to marginal soils and climates. Human consumption of legumes has been increased in recent years, being regarded as beneficial food ingredients. Legume seeds contain a great number of compounds which qualify as bioactive compounds with significant potentials benefits to human health. These compounds vary considerably in their biochemistry and they can be proteins, glycosides, tannins, saponins, alkaloids, etc. Hence, methods for their extraction, determination and quantification are specific of each compound. They do not appear equally distributed in all legumes, and their physiological effects are diverse. Some of these compounds are important in plant defence mechanisms against predators or environmental conditions. Others are reserve compounds, accumulated in seeds as energy stores in readiness for germination. Processing generally improves the nutrient profile of legume seed by increasing in vitro digestibility of proteins and carbohydrates and at the same time there are reductions in some antinutritional compounds. Most antinutritional factors are heat-labile, such as protease inhibitors and lectins, so thermal treatment would remove any potential negative effects from consumption. On the other hand tannins, saponins and phytic acid are heat stable but can be reduced by dehulling, soaking, germination and/or fermentation. New directions in bioactive compounds research in the last decade have led to major developments in our understanding of their role in nutrition. The scientific interest in these compounds is now also turning to studies of their possible useful and beneficial applications as gut, metabolic and hormonal regulators and as probiotic/prebiotic agents.