Pulse biochemistry explained
Chickpeas, faba beans and field peas could play a role in fighting the global obesity epidemic that has health specialists around the world questioning many aspects of modern food manufacturing.
Some of the new data emerging on the way in which pulses could better balance diets and redress some of the chronic diet-related illnesses, such as obesity and diabetes, has come from a small, GRDC-funded research team at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
Research student Kyle Reynolds – now a PhD candidate with CSIRO Plant Industry – extracted compounds from pulses that appeared to inhibit the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of fat during digestion, and subsequently prevent absorption of the fat.
Although more testing needs to be conducted, the research holds considerable promise as a further stimulant for the pulse industry.
Earlier research showed that several legumes, including the garden pea, white kidney bean and fenugreek, had anti-obesity properties.
Mr Reynolds says chickpeas, faba beans and field peas were all chosen in his research because they are widely grown in Australia. He found they all contained compounds with anti-obesity activity.
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, about 60 per cent of Australian adults and 25 per cent of children are classified as overweight or obese.
Mr Reynolds says while the effect is not yet fully understood, the compounds appear to interfere with the genetic process of fat cell development.
In some preliminary work, he also found field peas have compounds that can inhibit the activity of pancreatic lipase, the enzyme that has a role in the breakdown of 70 per cent of lipids or fats into fatty acids in the intestinal tract during digestion.
Mr Reynolds says that while he was optimistic the extracts would show some inhibitory effect he was not expecting quite as strong an inhibition: “When I was looking at the cell-culture assays it was observed that a very small proportion of cells were going through the development phase to fat cells.”
The studies were mainly done using compounds from seeds, but Mr Reynolds says results from preliminary work extracting the compounds from hulls (a waste product) are also promising.
The hulls have been found to have an even higher phenolic content; in other words, a higher concentration of the predicted active compounds. Mr Reynolds now wonders whether the hulls might be a better source for the development of nutraceuticals.
The next step is to identify the compound or compounds that are having the inhibitory effect, to establish how they work, and whether the effect occurs in living animals. He needs to see if digestion in any way diminishes the active compounds’ effectiveness.
If the research proves successful, it could result in specially bred obesity-combating pulses, value-added food products, nutraceuticals and even pharmaceuticals based on the active compounds.
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