Most people profoundly recognise the importance of a nutritional diet and healthy lifestyle. Yet cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome are the most common causes of death worldwide. To address these modern pandemics, preventative strategies have been planned worldwide based on known risk factors such as hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension and obesity. Given the importance of dietary habits in these risk factors, authorities hope to promote a healthy diet and specific functional foods. As a result, innovative products are needed with bioactive ingredients that clearly demonstrate health benefits. With this in mind, the EU-funded 'Innovative functional foods based on sweet lupin protein for cardiovascular prevention' (LUPICARP) project concentrated on lupin, a protein-rich grain legume that has been insufficiently exploited in human nutrition. The key objective was to compare the hypolipidaemic effect of lupin proteins versus animal proteins through a multi-centre dietary intervention study. As a first step, all participating small and medium-sized enterprises designed and optimised numerous prototype food products containing lupin protein. To assess the health benefits of these lupin foods in cardiovascular disease prevention, the consortium performed a trial on two groups of patients. The first group consumed a low lipid diet containing both vegetal and animal foods, while the second group had 30 g of animal protein in their diet replaced with lupin protein. Blood samples were collected at certain times and the levels of cholesterol were estimated as the main end point. Results indicated a clear association of the observed reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) with the consumption of lupin foods, indicating a beneficial impact on cholesterol. Molecular insight into the mechanism of this phenomenon showed that lupin proteins upregulate the expression of the LDL receptor, and impact on other components of the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway. The high protein content of lupin can compete with soybean for food production. Combined with the capacity to lower cholesterol, LUPICARP products should get rapidly disseminated in the growing healthy foods sector.
Cardiovascular disease, lupin, metabolic syndrome, functional foods, grain legume