Researchers of Instituto de la Grasa (part of the Spanish National Research Council -CSIC) and the Vegetal Biology and Ecology Department of the University of Seville have found out that vetch is an important source of phenolic compounds with a high antioxidant activity. It is a leguminous plant of the Fabeae family, very popular during the Spanish post-war as a basic foodstuff. Currently, vetch is frequently grown in the Indian subcontinent, in Ethiopia and surrounding countries, in the Mediterranean area and in South America.
This finding is paradoxical because its excessive consumption causes lathyrism, a disease of the spinal cord. It has been published in the Food Science and Technology of the Swiss Society of Food Science and Technology journal. For researchers, these results could open a door to future alternative growings.
Polyphenols are antioxidants that protect LDL's from oxidation. They are absorbed in our body and appear in our blood and tissues through fruits, vegetables and wine. Its consumption causes an increase of the antioxidant capacity in the blood, which prevents oxidative stress, linked to diseases and the ageing process.
Researchers studied the content in polyphenols and the antioxidant activity of the seeds of 15 species of Lathyrus in Andalusia: L. hirsutus, L. filiformis, L. sativus, L. cicera, L. angulatus, L. sphaericus, L. annuus L. clymenum, L. pratensis, L. ochrus, L. aphaca, L. latifolius, L. setifolius, L. tingitanus and L. amphicarpos. In this research work, scientists noticed different proportions in the contents of the seeds polyphenols, which fluctuated between 3.8 mg/g of flour in L. setifolius and 29.2 mg/g in the case of L. sphaericus. Moreover there were higher contents of polyphenols in the smallest seeds due to a higher amount of husk, which is richer in these compounds.
The contents of polyphenols in the studied wild vetch were much higher to those observed in widely consumed pulses. For example, species such as L. aphaca, L. tingitanus, L. angulatus and L. spahericus showed more than double amount of phenolic compounds than soy, chickpeas and lupines.
Moreover, in addition to having a higher content of polyphenols, many species of vetch showed in these compounds more than double of the antioxidant activity soy, chickpeas and lupines polyphenols had. Therefore, three grown species of vetch, L. sativus, L. cicera and L. annuus had polyphenols with a higher antioxidant activity.
'These results can open the door to reconsider and revaluate these traditional growings in our community as a functional source of food or compounds with a high biological activity such as polyphenols. This could help to the revaluation of these growings, preservation of these species, protection of our floral richness and finally, the protection of biodiversity', Javier Vioque stated.
L. sativus is the vetch variety that is most used in human food as a pulse or else without the husk and turned into flour to mix it with cereals and make bread or porridge. Porridge was a popular dish in times of poverty and famine such as the Spanish post-war, in Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura. However, the presence of toxic compounds in seeds can result in serious cases of paralysis, known as neurolathyrism, though this only occurs when it is an important part of the diet (more than 30% of the total) for several weeks or months.
Polyphenols are compounds with a well known biological activity. There are plenty of them in vegetables and the beneficial effects pf wine, soy and olive oil polyphenols have been very much researched into. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferate properties, and they are recommended for the prevention of circulatory system diseases and cancer, and in general, to delay the ageing process.
- Pastorcavada et al. Antioxidant activity of seed polyphenols in fifteen wild Lathyrus species from South Spain. LWT - Food Science and Technology, 2009; 42 (3): 705 DOI: 10.1016/j.lwt.2008.10.006
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