Saponins in Food

Secondary metabolites are produced by plants for a variety of reasons including host defense from pathogens. Saponins are one group of phytochemicals that are produced by plants perhaps for host defense, but of which are nutritionally interesting because they may have physiological benefits in humans and animals. Saponins may confer resistance to stress in humans and can therefore be seen as beneficial. Oats produce saponins which form a family of compounds called avenacins A1, B1, A2 and B2. These saponins accumulate in the roots and may protect the oat plant from fungal attack. While such botanical findings are interesting, it may have nutritional significance and relate to human nutrition, because although oats roots are not consumed normally by humans as part of their diet, saponins are produced by other parts of the oat plant and in many other foods that are eaten. That saponins are produced by plants suggests that those plants that are more open to attack by pathogens, may produce higher amounts of saponins and this may in turn have beneficial effects on those that consume them.

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Osbourn, A., Carter, J., Papadopoulou, K., Haralampidis, K., Trojanowska, M. and Melton, R. 2000. Oat Root Saponins and Root-Infecting Fungi. In Saponins in Food. Feedstuffs and Medicinal Plants: 121-128

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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