Background: Plants have represented an essential source of foods for human beings, as confirmed by
archeological studies that have revealed on old pottery the presence of proteins from cereal and legumes.
Specific aims: In this review, major healthy effects derived from the consumption of plant fibers, polyunsaturated fatty
acids (PUFAs) and polyphenols, respectively, will be described with special emphasis on their mechanisms of action, both
at cellular and molecular levels.
Dietary compounds: Fibers exhibit a prevalent prebiotic effect, acting on the intestinal microbiota with the production of
protective metabolites, such as short chain fatty acids. Plant PUFAs include α-linolenic and stearidonic acids, which are
precursors of other two major PUFAs, namely, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids. Some clinical trials
demonstrated the ability of PUFAs to lower the risk of coronary disease, while other trials did not confirm such a finding.
Polyphenols are endowed with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in view of their property to inhibit NF-κB
activation, to induce the anti-inflammatory T regulatory cells and to normalize the intestinal microbiota. The beneficial
effects of polyphenols on obesity/diabetes, allergic/autoimmune and inflammatory disease are elucidated.
Conclusion: Plants are one of the major sources of healthy dietary products, whose exploitation may promote prevention of