Can coca leaves contribute to improving the nutritional status of the Andean population?

Type Journal Article - Food & Nutrition Bulletin
Title Can coca leaves contribute to improving the nutritional status of the Andean population?
Volume 30
Issue 3
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2009
Page numbers 205-216
Background. Coca leaves (Erythroxylum coca) have been promoted as a food that could address the dietary deficiencies of the Andean population, but this is based on nutrient analyses of a small sample of leaves.

Objective. We assessed the nutritional potential of eight samples of coca leaves grown in different regions of Peru.

Methods. We used AOAC techniques to measure nutrients, nutrient inhibitors (phytate, polyphenols, oxalic acid, and fiber), and alkaloid concentrations, all expressed per 100 g dry weight (DW) of the ground leaves. Minerals were measured by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry in two independent laboratories.

Results. The leaves contained protein, 20.28 g/100 gDW, with lysine as the limiting amino acid; ?-carotene, 3.51 mg/100 gDW; vitamin E, 16.72 mg/100 gDW; trace amounts of vitamin D; calcium, 990.18 and 1033.17 mg/100 gDW at two different laboratories; iron, 29.16 and 29.16 mg/100 gDW; zinc, 2.71 and 2.63 mg/100 gDW; and magnesium, 225.19 and 196.69 mg/100 gDW. Cocaine was the principal alkaloid, with a concentration of 0.56 g/100 gDW; other alkaloids were also identified. The results were compared with those for other edible leaves. The nutrient contributions of coca powder (5 g) and bread made with coca were compared with those of normal portions of alternative foods.

Conclusions. Two spoonfuls of coca leaf flour would satisfy less than 10% of dietary intakes for schoolchildren and adults for critical commonly deficient nutrients in the diet. Coca leaves do not provide nutritional benefits when eaten in the recommended quantities, and the presence of absorbable cocaine and other alkaloids may be potentially harmful; hence coca leaves cannot be recommended as a food.

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