UCU academics study health benefits of indigenous vegetables

By Vanessa Kyalimpa
Uganda Christian University (UCU) academics have gone into the trenches to establish how the elderly can consume food as medicine by taking advantage of the full potential of the health benefits of African indigenous vegetables.

African indigenous vegetables have been touted as one of the magic bullets to addressing malnutrition and some medical challenges, but their increased absence on the dining table have led to “hidden hunger” because there is more eating than feeding of the body at meal time.

So, how can such a challenge be addressed? Researchers at UCU have embarked on a year-long study among the elderly in Mukono district in central Uganda, hoping to come up with answers.

The research project, Exploring the Potential of African Indigenous Vegetables for Human Health in Uganda, is intended to be used to unpack the health benefits of African indigenous vegetables.

Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Balyejusa Kizito, the principal investigator of the research, said the main objective of the study is to conduct a human nutritional survey on the effects of consuming fresh African indigenous vegetables in the diets of elderly people in Mukono. Among these vegetables in Uganda are eggplant, spider  plant, pumpkin and peas.

Students at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences studying about plants in an on-campus greenhouse. Photo/ Andrew Bugembe.
Students at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences studying about plants in an on-campus greenhouse. Photo/ Andrew Bugembe.

“Through the research, we shall be able to find out the biochemical profile of the African indigenous vegetables,” said Prof. Kizito, the Director of Research, Partnership and Innovations at UCU.  “We shall also be able to know how much vegetables someone needs to eat for a healthy living.”

The study, launched in February 2022, is being conducted by UCU’s Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and the institution’s School of Medicine, in collaboration with Mukono Municipality.

The researchers plan to find a sample of people willing to take part in the study, provide them with African indigenous vegetables for the duration of the study, and take their blood samples before and after consumption of the vegetables, which they will later compare and note differences.

Dr. Gerald Tumusiime, the Dean of the UCU School of Medicine who is also the co-principal investigator of the research, said the study is also intended to be used as a platform to teach people how to handle and prepare the African indigenous vegetables.

“The older persons who take part in this study are expected to have improved gut, kidney, liver, and cardiovascular health by the end of the study,” Dr. Tumusiime said.

African indigenous vegetables, such as Solanum aethiopicum, Hibiscus spp, Amaranthus, Phaseolus vulgaris, Phaseolus lunatus and Vigna unguiculata, have for a long time been believed to have medicinal benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, reducing chances of contracting some types of cancer and lowering the risk of eye and digestive problems.

Dr. Anthony Konde, the medical officer of Mukono municipality, said that they are willing to work with the researchers to make the study a success.