A research group of the Animal Nutrition Unit at Zaidín Experimental Station, which is owned by the Higher Board of Scientific Research, located in Armilla (Granada), have demonstrated that leguminous plants can have beneficial effects on the body. Amongst others, eating these foods can reduce the probability of suffering cancer of the colon, as they reduce the replication ratio of tumour cells.
In collaboration with scientists at Milan University, who had already demonstrated the beneficial effects of soybean proteins for cholesterolemia, the Granada researchers have found that incorporating pulse proteins in the diet of rats reduces the relative weight of the large intestine. This reduction has been associated by other authors with reduced cell proliferation and prevention of cancer of the colon.
On the other hand, the experts have studied the effects of "protease inhibitors", which are present in leguminous plants. These substances inhibit the activity of the enzymes produced by the body to facilitate digestion. Although it could be thought that these might be damaging, according to observations, in normal amounts they have no negative effect on the digestive process. Furthermore, they have been found to have a beneficial effect in respect of certain tumours. These studies will be carried out through an excellence project called Propiedades funcionales y nutricionales de los inhibidores de proteasas de la familia de Bowman-Birk en leguminosas (Functional and Nutritional Properties of Protease Inhibitors of the Bowman-Birk Family in Leguminous plants)
The Granada scientists have demonstrated, in vitro, that the protease inhibitors inhibit tumour cell growth. Other researchers have observed positive effects of these substances in relation to digestive system and mammary gland tumours. These substances have no nutritional effect on the body, but they can prevent cancer, acting as a functional food.
To obtain these results, the scientists separated, by chemical means, the main components (proteins, carbohydrates, fibre) of various leguminous plants, such as broad beans, chickpeas or peas. This separation into food fractions makes it possible to assign a particular effect to an adequately specified food component. The experts give one group of animals a control ration, that is, one for which the nutritional value and its effects are known. At the same time, another group of rodents are offered a ration equivalent to the former, which includes purified fractions. In this way, the substance that has been incorporated into the diet can be linked to the effect produced in the animals.
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