Cereals and legumes are key components of a healthy and balanced diet. Accordingly, many national nutritional guidelines emphasize their health promoting properties by placing them at the base of nutritional food pyramids. This concept is further validated by the observed correlation between a lower risk and occurrence of chronic diseases and the adherence to dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean diet, in which cereal grains, legumes and derived products represent a staple food. In the search for a dietary approach to control/prevent chronic degenerative diseases, protein derived bioactive peptides may represent one such source of health-enhancing components. These peptides may already be present in foods as natural components or may derive from hydrolysis by chemical or enzymatic treatments (digestion, hydrolysis or fermentation). Many reports are present in the literature regarding the bioactivity of peptides in vitro
and a wide range of activities has been described, including antimicrobial properties, blood pressure-lowering (ACE inhibitory) effects, cholesterol-lowering ability, antithrombotic and antioxidant activities, enhancement of mineral absorption/bioavailability, cyto- or immunomodulatory effects, and opioid-like activities. However it is difficult to translate these observed effects to human. In fact, the active peptide may be degraded during digestion, or may not be absorbed or reach the target tissues at a concentration necessary to exert its function. This review will focus on bioactive peptides identified in cereals and legumes, from an agronomical and biochemical point of view, including considerations about requirements for the design of appropriate clinical trials necessary for the assessment of their nutraceutical effect in vivo.
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