Selected plant species and their compounds that are beneficial for human health.
Vegetables and fruits have been a part of human diet since ancient times; nevertheless, as countries develop, its population’s feeding habits change and tend to have a diet poor in vegetables and fruits, with well-known consequences. Several food plant products with massive consumption and within the reach of the population are products such as artichoke, leek, hot chili pepper, coriander, kiwifruit, sweet orange, highbush blueberry, and maracuyá to name a few. They have many beneficial properties principally by its content of phytochemicals with high impact on human health, beyond nutritional support. The phytochemicals are bioactive compounds such as vitamins, carotenoids, phenolic acid, and flavonoids, which contribute to antioxidant capacity and as a whole prevent chronic nontransmissible diseases such as: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol in blood, cardiovascular risks, among others. This relationship between food plant for human consumption and its impacts on human health is discussed in this chapter, highlighting coriander and kiwifruit by its wide range of benefits.
- antioxidant capacity
- chronical diseases
- healthy feeding habits
- life style
Foods are neither inherently good nor bad. Rather, good or bad eating habits, as well as other factors such as smoking and physical activity, all influence human health. If we desire a healthy lifestyle and wish to avoid chronic nontransmissible disorders such as diabetes, high levels of cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, etc., foods, especially those that are functional, are only a part of the solution .
Despite a wealth of information, there is no universal definition about what constitutes a functional food. However, there is consensus concerning central concepts, which are associated with their benefit for human health beyond their traditional nutrients . Along the same lines, the importance of phytochemicals as a class of biologically active metabolites in plants is accepted . When discussing “potential use for human health” to refer to a particular plant, preliminary evidence on its outstanding phytochemical content must already exist, which means it can be used in the future as a source to investigate more profoundly its beneficial implications in human health.
Some processes such as cooking alter the content and composition of phytochemicals present in vegetables, reducing their concentrations by thermal degradation or augmenting their concentration with respect to the raw material. However, these effects are varying with the cooking method and type of phytochemical . These, together with the growing consumption of fiber, are the principal reasons to recommend the regular intake of fresh vegetables .
Functional foods may be plant or animal products, that are fresh, semi-processed or processed, but in this chapter we will refer mainly to fresh plants and their properties beyond their nutritional characteristics. In addition, we will also discuss the existence of several common horticultural and fruit plants that are widely available and consumed by the human population, whose functional properties have yet to be systematized and categorized. Vegetables with high functional interest such as artichoke, leek, hot chili pepper, and coriander, as well as fruit plants such as kiwifruit, sweet orange, and highbush blueberry are considered [6–9]. Within the species discussed in this chapter, only artichokes must be consumed cooked, whilst the others may be eaten fresh.
We believe that the updated information about plants with characteristics as functional foods responds to a need of the population and scientists to learn more about healthy habits and how consumption of natural foods can improve their quality of life.
2. Horticultural species with functional properties and their potential use in human health
The properties and features of some horticultural species that have beneficial effects on human health are mentioned here. It is important to note that the artichoke, leek, hot chili pepper, and coriander are considered in this section, because these species are widely consumed by the human population.
2.1. Artichoke (
var. scolymus and Cynara cardunculus ) Cynara scolymus
These species belong to the
Choleretic and hypocholesterolemic activities, due to the presence of chlorogenic acid, cynarin, and lutein, have been reported in clinical studies, which demonstrated the effect of leaf extracts on the inhibition of the biosynthesis of cholesterol in rat hepatocytes . Furthermore, these extracts prevented necrosis in rat hepatocytes provoked by hydroperoxides indicated for treatment of dyspepsia, or dyskinesia of the bile ducts, as well as disorders in the assimilation of fats in humans [16–18]. The nutraceutical and therapeutic actions of several metabolites are summarized in Table 1. The positive effects of ingesting
|Species||Molecule||Part of plant||Specific function for human health||References|
|Caffeoylquinic acids, flavonoids, and cynarin||Flower head and leaves||Antioxidant capacity||[7, 12–14]|
|Chlorogenic acid and cynarin||Flower head and leaves||Choleretic, hepatoprotective||[168, 169, 170]|
|Luteolin||Flower head and leaves||Hypocholesterolemic|||
|Inulin||Flower head, stem and leaves||Stimulates the intestinal flora, hypocholesterolemic|||
|Polyphenols||White part and green leaves||Antioxidant capacity|||
|Ascorbate||White part and green leaves||Growth and tissue repair, antioxidant||[28, 30]|
|Steroidal saponines||White part||Antiinflammatory, gastroprotective and antiulcerogenis||[31, 32]|
|Methanolic extracts||White part and green leaves||Antimicrobial|||
|Steroidal saponines/polyphenols||White part||Cytotoxic activity: a potential anticancer agent||[33, 35]|
|Hydroalcoholic extracts||White part and green leaves||Hypolipidemic/hypocholesterolemic||[172, 173]|
|Polyphenols||Fruit||Antioxidant capacity||[37, 174]|
|Dietary fiber||Fruit||Anticarcinogenic, prevents diabetes, hypocholesterolemic||[9, 175]|
|Essential oil, aqueous, methanolic and ethanolic extracts||Fruit and|
|Prevention of several chronic degenerative disorders||[8, 44, 48]|
|Essential oils||Fruit and leaves||Anticancer activity||[176, 177]|
|Diethyl ether and aqueous extracts||Fruit, seeds and leaves||Anxiolytic, sedatives,|
|[51, 54, 56]|
|Aqueous, ethanolic and chloroformic extracts||Aerial parts||Analgesic|||
|Extracts||Aerial parts||Antioxidant activity|||
|Hydroalcoholic extract||Aerial parts||Anticonvulsant|||
|Ethanolic extract||Seeds||Cognitive effects (improves learning in the long term)|||
Inositol and inulin are soluble carbohydrates, which are present in external bracts of artichokes. In the case of inositol (chiro-scyllo- and myo-inositol), values fluctuate from 6.7 to 9.3 mg g−1 DW while for inulin they fluctuate from 69.8 to 114.6 mg g−1 DW . These values are higher than the ones reported by Hernández-Hernández et al.  in edible bracts of artichoke. Regarding the beneficial properties, inositols have been used in treatments against diabetes mellitus . In this sense, Crawford et al.  reported that inositol prevents diabetes mellitus in pregnant women and concluded that myo-inositol shows promising results by preventing the onset of the disease. Furthermore, inulin has been associated with some beneficial functional properties, as it can be a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, associated with positive effects in the prevention of colon cancer [20, 21]. In addition, prebiotic properties and effects on the absorption of calcium have been reported [20, 21]. In this sense, research on mineral absorption of calcium and magnesium concluded that inulin can reduce risk for osteoporosis by increasing their absorption .
2.2. Leek (
Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum or Allium porrum)
It has been reported that this species has a substantial nutraceutical and functional properties (see Table 1) and is cultivated in Asia, America, and Europe, especially in the Mediterranean region [23, 24].
The principal beneficial properties of the
In the evaluation of 30 leek cultivars, the content of total phenols varied from 5 to 15 mg gallic acid equivalents (GAE) g−1 DW for whole plants . Other studies reported values of 5.5–6.0 mg GAE g−1 DW in whole leeks . These differences in the total phenolic content could be attributed to the genetic variability of this species and agricultural systems . Moreover, in the same study, the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) was evaluated, where the green leaves possessed 82–135 μmol TE g−1 DW, whereas the white part contained just 27–88 μmol TE g−1 DW. Additionally, Vandekinderen et al.  determined the total vitamin C content (ascorbic acid + dehydroascorbic acid) whose values reached 9.65 mg 100 g−1 FW in whole leeks. Bernaert et al.  reported 5.54 mg ascorbic acid (AA) g−1 DW in whole leeks and higher values in green leaves than in white parts (2.77–8.52 mg AA g−1 DW and 0.89–3.55 mg AA g−1 DW, respectively). Values of polyphenols, AA, and antioxidant activity may be influenced by the season of year, genetic characteristics, and biotic and abiotic factors during vegetative growth, as well as agricultural practices.
The antiinflammatory, gastroprotective, and cytotoxic activities of organosulfate compounds, saponins, particularly steroidal saponines, have been well documented in
Another property that is exclusive to the
2.3. Hot chili pepper (
Capsicum annuum L. var. longum)
The fruit of this species (Figure 3), immature or mature and leaves, contains at least two groups of bioactive compounds of significance for human health, polyphenols and carotenoids. The polyphenol content is variable but reaches over 20 mg GAE g−1 DW in mature and dried fruits , and 40 mg GAE g−1 DW in leaves . The polyphenols of fruits have a total antioxidant capacity of 26.6–44.4 μmol TE g−1 DW, depending on the variety . According to Serrano et al. , the small intestine has around 25% of bioavailability of total polyphenols.
Regarding the total carotenoids present in different varieties of red hot chili peppers, Hervert-Hernández et al.  indicated values from 87.6 to 373.3 mg 100 g−1 DW. In addition, the same authors determined that the bioavailability of chili carotenoids in the small intestine ranges from 20 to 50% of the total content, depending on the variety . In addition,
2.4. Coriander (
Coriandrum sativum L.)
This species of the
According to Kumar et al. , ethanolic extracts of fresh coriander roots contain alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenoids, sterols, carbohydrates, saponins, and phenolic compounds. This extract and its fractions possess significant antibiotic activity against
The antihyperglycemic (antidiabetic) activity of coriander has been studied by several authors. Deepa and Anuradha  analyzed the effects of coriander seed extracts in rats, which showed decreases by 44% in blood glucose and by 58% in glycosylated hemoglobin levels with respect to untreated rats. At the same time, the insulin level in plasma increased to 40%. They also reported beneficial effects in kidney and pancreas. Moreover,
Additional properties such as analgesic, anticonvulsive, anxiolytic, sedative, antidepressant, and cognitive effects of coriander have been tested
3. Fruit species with functional properties and their potential use in human health
Fruits, in addition to horticultural species, constitute a group of foods for humans with important functional characteristics. In this chapter, we consider kiwifruit, sweet orange, and highbush blueberry given their extensive geographical distribution, consumption, and richness in biocompounds with nutraceutical properties.
3.1. Kiwifruit (
Actinidia deliciosa [A. Chev] C.F Liang et A.R Ferguson/ Actidinia chinensis [Planch])
This species originated in Asia  and belongs to the
|Species||Molecule||Part of plant||Specific function for human health||References|
|Dietary fiber||Fruit and|
flour skin and bagasse of fruit
|Alleviate constipation/laxative||[57, 60, 71]|
|Actinidin||Whole fruit||Increment on protein digestion||[73 – 75]|
|Polyphenols, flavonoids Vitamin C, E, lutein, zeaxanthin and other phytochemicals||Fruit and|
flour skin and bagasse of fruit
|Antioxidant activity/reduces cellular damage from oxidative stress||[57, 62, 71, 86]|
|Vitamin C||Fruit||Positive synergic effect with nutrients and phytochemicals|||
|Essential amino acids, linolenic acid, folic acid, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and E, minerals like Zn, Cu, Fe, and Se.||Fruit||Strengthen the immune system||[82, 84]|
|Phytosterols and ursolic acid/independent or synergic actions of polyphenols, vitamin C, and E||Fruit||Improve lipid profile in men/reduction of risk of cardiovascular diseases||[61, 76, 77, 79, 86]|
|Vitamin C and inositol and other unidentified compounds||Fruit||Antiinflammatory activities||[71, 178]|
|Phytosterols and ursolic acid||Fruit||Inhibit carcinogenesis processes|||
|Fiber||Fruit||Antiirritable bowel syndrome|||
|Unidentified||Juice and ethanolic peel extract||Antihyperglycemic activity||[89, 104, 105]|
|Flavonoids and other polyphenols||Juice||Antihypercholesterolemic activity||[107, 110, 111]|
|Flavonoids other than anthocyanins||Juice||Antithrombotic|||
|Flavonoids and other polyphenols||Juice||Cardioprotective||[108, 111]|
|Flavones||Juice||Enhanced antioxidant defense system|||
|Unidentified||Juice||Antiinflammatory activity||[119, 120]|
|Flavones, flavonoids and flavonols||Juice||Microbial activity||[101, 122]|
|Interaction phenolic compounds||Fruit and leaf aqueous extract||Antimicrobial|||
|Anthocyanins and other phytochemicals||Fruit||Modulation of vascular function||[178, 179]|
|Anthocyanins and other polyphenols||Extract hydroalcoholic of fruit||Cytotoxic activity|||
The dietary fiber content of kiwifruit is 2–3.39 g 100 g−1 FW [60, 69] of which 25–30% is found in the flour skin and fruit bagasse . These values are higher than several of the widely consumed fruits such as orange, apple, banana, strawberries, and blueberries . Thus, kiwifruits contain sufficient fiber thus improving digestive performance, ameliorating digestive transit, alleviating constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome [60, 70–72]. Studies performed in rat have reported that kiwifruits improve digestion of the principal proteins of beef muscle, soy protein, gelatin, and gluten . This is related with its content of actinidin, a very active proteolytic enzyme, which acts in concert with the gastric and intestinal proteases, pepsin, and pancreatin, generating an increment in protein digestion in the gastric and intestinal tracts [74, 75].
Kiwifruits possess hypocholesterolaemic activity in hypercholesterolemic men . This property may be related with the expression of the
Additionally, Hunter et al.  and Skinner  affirm that kiwifruits have an important function in the modulation of the immune system. In this context, Hunter et al.  indicate that kiwifruit contribute significantly to lessening upper respiratory tract infections, head congestion, and sore throats in older individuals. Even though, there is a large source of variation in immune function, the nutrient status of this fruit is crucial. The most important phytochemicals present in kiwifruit include essential amino acids, linolenic acid, folic acid, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and E, and minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, and selenium . Given the type and content of phytochemicals, beneficial immune effects are not unexpected , although the mechanisms and the specific molecules underlying these effects are unknown. Moreover, preliminary studies under
3.2. Sweet orange (
(L.) Osbeck.) Citrus sinensis
The sweet orange is one of most economically important fruits in worldwide [88, 89]. It is believed that the
The sweet orange harbors several interesting phytochemical compounds that play an important role in human health (see Table 2). These include vitamins and polyphenols such as hesperidin, gallic acid, sinapic acid, caffeic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, vanillic acid, narirutin, naringin, p-cumaric, and ferulic acid [93–96]. Hesperidin is the major polyphenol of sweet oranges, accounting for over 77% of the flavonol content [98–100]. These compounds are present in the edible fruit, juice, and/or peel, and here we concentrate on the juice and the edible fresh fruit, due to their direct implications in human health. As a functional food, Letaief et al.  determined that the AA content in orange juice fluctuates from 551 to 614 mg L−1, total phenolics range from 413 to 417 mg GAE L−1, and flavonoids from 25 to 60 mg catechin equivalents (CE) g−1 DW. Roussos  measured total phenols (964–1215 mg TAE L−1). The percentage of antioxidant activity of the juice, evaluated by the DPPH method, fluctuated from 36.4% to 56.6% [94, 97]. The antioxidant activity of sweet orange juice is dependent on the state of maturity of the fruit. Indeed, Adu et al.  noted higher levels of antioxidant activity in fruits of 3–6 months (over 80%) than in fruits of 10–12 months (around 70%). Fiber and amino acids are also important in juice. In this sense, Aschoff et al.  informed 1.4 g 100 g−1 of dietary fiber, and Roussos  mentioned that juice contains 18 amino acids (included the essentials amino acids), especially proline, arginine, asparagine, glycine, serine, and
It has been reported that to maintain sufficient antioxidant protection, an estimated average consumption of 60 and 75 mg d−1 of vitamin C is required for young women and men, respectively; however, it is suggested an increase of 35 mg d−1 for smokers . This is important because orange consumption provides other phytochemicals with multiple benefits to human health. Several clinical studies confirm this assertion. For example, sweet orange juice also harbors antidiabetic activity, as determined in rats by metabolome analysis . This agrees with research performed by Kumar and Bhaskar  in rats, using ethanolic orange peel extract, where blood glucose decreased around 60% with respect to the control after 3 weeks of treatment, similar to the drug, glibenclamide. Furthermore, Mallick and Khan  suggest a combination of juice of
Hypocholesterolemic activity was demonstrated in women with aerobic exercise and a consumption of 500 mL of sweet orange juice daily . These authors found a 15% decrease of low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C) in serum and an 18% increase of high-density lipoprotein (HDL-L), whereas the ratio LDL/HDL-cholesterol decreased by 27%. Furthermore, they also noted an improved performance during physical activity, by a reduction of blood lactate. Moreover, a long-term study (twelve months) showed that consumption of orange juice (480 mL daily) triggered reductions of 11% in total cholesterol, 18% in LDL-cholesterol, 12% in apolipoprotein B, and 12% in the LDL/HDL ratio in comparison to nonconsumers . In addition, an increase in antiatherogenic activity levels with the consumption of sweet orange juice was found [108–110]. Recently, it was informed that in rats, antihyperlipidemic activity is due to phytochemical compounds like flavonoids and other polyphenols with antioxidant capacity present in the juice of sweet oranges . Therefore, the juice of sweet oranges may play an important cardioprotective role by preventing thrombosis . In humans, orange juice intake also decreases procoagulant activity, possibly due to flavonoids, like anthocyanins, or other juice components .
Another feature of sweet orange juice that supports its cardioprotective role is its effect on diastolic blood pressure, which was significantly lower in men after the daily consumption of 500 mL orange juice for 4 weeks, and an enhancement of endothelium-dependent microvascular reactivity . These authors also suggest that hesperidin could be related to the beneficial effect of orange juice in cardioprotection. Likewise, Rangel-Huerta et al.  related the reduction of blood pressure in obese adults with the consumption of at least 300 mg flavanones over 12 weeks. On the contrary, Schär et al.  found a relatively high flavanone and phenolic metabolite content in plasma, but no effects were observed on blood pressure and cardiovascular risk biomarkers. Additionally, Giordano et al.  reported that a daily intake of 1 L of orange juice for 4 weeks was not effective in reducing cellular markers associated with cardiovascular risks. Nevertheless, in general, more evidence of positive rather than neutral or negative effects on cardiovascular risk of sweet orange juice consumption exists. In fact, risk factors are mainly associated with metabolic syndromes such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood coagulation, and frequent intake of orange juice may be a useful delaying strategy .
The antiinflammatory activity of sweet orange juice has been reported by Mohanty et al.  where glucose induced an acute increase in ROS and inflammation, and orange juice intake prevented meal-induced oxidative and inflammatory stress . Recent studies in rats revealed the positive effect of orange juice over histological and biochemical changes related with a progress in colonic oxidative status . Besides, the antimicrobial activity of sweet orange juice has been reported by several authors. Recently, Adu et al.  indicated an inhibitory effect of orange juice from fruits at different stages of development against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and fungi, like
3.3. Highbush blueberry (
Vaccinium corymbosum L.)
The highbush blueberry is a species that belongs to the
The antioxidant activity is higher in wild blueberry species, and part of this activity is conserved in cultivated varieties . The total antioxidant activity of blueberry species ranges from 15.88 to 18.41 μmol Fe2+ kg−1 FW, using the FRAP reagent . Contreras et al.  showed values near to 80% of antioxidant capacity measured by the DPPH method under
Plasma antioxidant capacity (PAC) is considered a biomarker for antioxidant status of humans. In this context, Fernández-Panchon et al.  indicated that PAC increased following consumption of some foods rich in phenols, which could be related with
Blueberry extracts also have antimicrobial activity, which have interest considering that many microorganisms are pathogenic to humans. In this line, a significant effect of extracts on
Zhong et al.  tested homogenized fresh blueberry juice as a therapy of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The combined therapy of blueberry juice and etanercept (the typical drug used to treat this condition), improved the therapeutic effect of etanercept in patients with this pathology. Samad et al.  confirmed the antiinflammatory activity of extracts of blueberry in an
Yi et al.  studied the effect of phenolic compounds over colon cancer cell proliferation. Results indicated that these phytochemicals could inhibit the carcinogenic cells. Massarotto et al.  demonstrated that anthocyanins and other phenolic compounds have cytotoxic activity, as tested in tumoral cell lines under
The antilipidemic and antiatherogenic actions of blueberry have been reported by several authors. Coban et al.  indicated that the fresh fruit is food supplements that generate a positive effect over aorta and liver of hypercholesterolemic Guinea pigs . In this respect, Cutler et al.  confirmed that berries are a special source of phytochemicals (anthocyanins and other phenolic compounds) and can be exploited as natural phytochemicals to contribute toward the amelioration of several chronic diseases, including those derived from alterations in the lipid profile in vascular systems.
3.4. Maracuyá (
Passiflora edulis Sims)
4. Conclusion and perspectives
A wealth of information in the field of phytochemical compounds and their impact on human health has been generated. Nowadays, it is possible to affirm that fruits and vegetables must be a part of daily diet. This is not simply a recommendation, but must be treated as an urgent requirement to ameliorate human health, especially in decreasing chronic nontransmissible diseases. We believe that additional efforts of governments and diverse organisms related with human health are necessary in order to highlight the benefits of these food types. Coriander and kiwifruit have remarkable characteristics and are excellent functional foods. We highlight these species for their wide range of benefits in different human diseases and their worldwide distribution. Likewise, further investigation is required to understand the mechanisms associated with several biochemical and physiological processes induced by fruit and vegetable intake in humans. Furthermore, we consider that leeks and artichokes have special potential as functional foods. Although there is a lot of information about the beneficial effects of fruits, we believe it is possible to extend studies to other organs like leaves and stems in artichokes, and roots in leeks, because they can offer additional benefits to human health.
We are grateful to FONDECYT 1110726, 1120917, and 1150220 projects and FONDECYT-POSDOCTORAL 3120248, Doctoral Fellowship CONICYT-PCHA/Doctorado Nacional/2016-21160984, as well as the Millennium Nucleus for Plant Synthetic Biology and Systems Biology NC130030. We would like to thank Dr. Michael Handford and Dr. Franko Restovic for language support.
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