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Research studies “cranberry bean” cultivars with increased health benefits and addresses specific phenolic contributors to antioxidant activity

17 June 2015

Research from a combined study with the University of Guelph in Canada and the University of Nanchang and Tianjin in China, on so called “cranberry beans” (Phaseolus vulgaris) has recently shed further light on their sources of antioxidant activity. 

Antioxidants have been widely linked to a number of health benefits, such as a reduction in various types of cancer, blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Further to this the health benefits of dry beans had been known previously, but these were primarily linked to fibre content. The link between the antioxidant effects and the compounds present however has until relatively recently been lacking. 

The latest evidence from this combined study suggests that interactions between bound polyphenols (antioxidant compounds) and the dietary fibre allow the release of antioxidants in the colon which are then absorbed, leading to the various health-related benefits. The combination of the fibre and the antioxidants is seemingly needed to bestow the full health benefits in terms of delivering the antioxidants in a usable manner. 

The researchers conducting the study found a distinction between the more readily darkening beans and those that did not darken, with those darkening being shown to have higher levels of antioxidants, specifically flavonoids, in the forms of catechin, proanthocyanidins and anthocyanins as extractable free phenolics they could detect. The whole raw “cranberry beans” of the darkening variety were found to mainly contain these compounds. 

With the main contributors to the antioxidant activity identified, the present study provides comprehensive information on the lipophilic and hydrophilic (fat and water soluble) components and how they contribute to the antioxidant activities of cranberry beans, which is primarily around the manner of absorption. One of the major findings of the recent study can be said to be information on the quantitative and qualitative data on the different antioxidant phenols, which existed at equally high concentrations as free and bound phenolics but often are missed during HPLC studies of crude extracts and so are not being detected in other studies. 

Missing the detection of these would underestimate the quality and quantity of antioxidants, leading to significant undervaluing of overall health benefits of “cranberry beans”, and other plant foods. The wider view in these studies needs to be taken with attention equally devoted to the specific nature of the antioxidants present and the possibility that in some analyses they can be missed and health benefits of food products could be ignored.

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