a1 Northern Ireland Centre for Diet and Health, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine BT52 1SA, UK
There is currently intense research interest in secondary plant metabolites because of their potential preventative effects on the chronic diseases of Western societies, especially cardiovascular disease and cancer. To date most of the research has focused on the identification of plant-derived substances and their potential protective effects against specific chronic diseases. The important issue of determining the optimal intake of those substances, such that the beneficial effects are maximized without manifestation of adverse effects, has yet to be addressed in most cases. Furthermore, there are no specific functional markers that can be used to assess optimal intake, although it may be possible to use biomarkers such as serum cholesterol if the rest of the diet is strictly controlled. The present review discusses a wide range of substances associated with plants, including dietary fibre, resistant starch, oligosaccharides, phyto-oestrogens, phytosterols, flavonoids, terpenes and isothiocyanates, and attempts where possible to indicate optimal intakes and to suggest functional markers.