Nutritional and Metabolic Response to Plant Inhibitors of Digestive Enzymes

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Man’s food source derives predominantly from plants, from which only a relatively small proportion can be utilized nutritionally. Of these plants, many must be treated or processed in some way to improve the digestibility or remove naturally occurring toxicants. Considerable effort has been put forth in elucidating those factors in food that may constitute a hazard to man or his domesticated animals when consumed. One group of compounds that has received much attention is the digestive enzyme inhibitors. The distribution of these inhibitors among plants is widespread, and includes most agronomic crops (Liener and Kakade, 1980). The inhibitor is most often found within the edible portion. By far the most prominent of these enzyme inhibitors are the inhibitors of the proteolytic enzymes, particularly trypsin and chymotrypsin. Examples of amylase inhibitors are few, but potentially important. Although no inhibitors of pancreatic lipase have been definitively established, a compound to be discussed may fit this role. Finally, there are certain substances that inhibit all the digestive enzymes in a relatively non-specific manner. Most notable among these are the tannins (Griffiths and Moseley, 1980). The discussion to follow will consider only the more specific types of inhibitors.