Plant metabolites and nutritional quality of vegetables

J Food Sci. 2008 May;73(4):R48-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00716.x.


Vegetables are an important part of the human diet and a major source of biologically active substances such as vitamins, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and cholesterol-lowering compounds. Despite a large amount of information on this topic, the nutritional quality of vegetables has not been defined. Historically, the value of many plant nutrients and health-promoting compounds was discovered by trial and error. By the turn of the century, the application of chromatography, mass spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance allowed quantitative and qualitative measurements of a large number of plant metabolites. Approximately 50000 metabolites have been elucidated in plants, and it is predicted that the final number will exceed 200000. Most of them have unknown function. Metabolites such as carbohydrates, organic and amino acids, vitamins, hormones, flavonoids, phenolics, and glucosinolates are essential for plant growth, development, stress adaptation, and defense. Besides the importance for the plant itself, such metabolites determine the nutritional quality of food, color, taste, smell, antioxidative, anticarcinogenic, antihypertension, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immunostimulating, and cholesterol-lowering properties. This review is focused on major plant metabolites that characterize the nutritional quality of vegetables, and methods of their analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / analysis
  • Amino Acids / analysis
  • Carbohydrates / analysis
  • Carboxylic Acids / analysis
  • Chromatography / methods
  • Electrophoresis / methods
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Flavonoids / analysis
  • Health Promotion
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Polyphenols
  • Spectrum Analysis / methods
  • Terpenes / analysis
  • Vegetables / chemistry*
  • Vegetables / metabolism*
  • Vitamin B Complex / analysis


  • Alkaloids
  • Amino Acids
  • Carbohydrates
  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Fatty Acids
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenols
  • Polyphenols
  • Terpenes
  • Vitamin B Complex