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Ethiopian Journal of Science and Technology

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Biologically Active Compounds of Plant Foods: Prospective Impact on Human Health and Dilemmas Associated with these Compounds

S Admassu

Abstract


Several plant foods grown in Ethiopia contain significant amounts of biologically active compounds, which have both detrimental and beneficial effects on health. Such compounds as phytic acid, phytohaemagglutinins, tannins, saponins, enzyme inhibitors and α-galactosides provide health benefits. Benefits include reduced risks of heart and renal diseases, lower glycemic index for persons with diabetes, reduced risks of cancer and increased bifidobacteria population in the colon. On the other hand, other biologically active compounds impair health by destroying nutrients or reducing the uptake of essential elements through different mechanisms and giving astringent taste, odor, flavor, which can cause adverse physiological responses. Harmful compounds interfere with normal growth, reproduction, or health and reduce protein and carbohydrate utilization. The health benefits of selected substances from Ethiopian food crops need to be studied. Active compounds need to be isolated, identified and produced to explore their potential benefits with emphasis to develop new products and technologies. This paper is a review of available information on biologically active compounds of plant foods. Their adverse effects on health, their benefits and their potential to combat common nutrition-related ailments such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases are discussed.

Keywords: Adverse effect; ecologically active compounds; plant foods; human health




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