Boosting Phyto-Benefits for Better Health and Longevity

Published in The Charlotte Observer’s Pulse Magazine.

Broccoli, blueberries and bananas are already tagged “super foods,” meaning they are more nutritious than most other fruits and vegetables. Yet, under the microscopes at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, scientists are finding ways to boost their benefits.

The NCRC is a public-private research center where scientists from Dole Foods, General Mills, Monsanto, Sensory Spectrum and 10 academic and healthcare organizations share in the mission to transform science at the intersection of human health, agriculture and nutrition. Research into specific foods and their phytochemical composition is one specific area of research that falls under the broader scientific goals of the campus.

Phytochemicals are bioactive compounds inside plants. They are not considered essential nutrients for humans, but research is proving that they have immense health benefits in terms of preventing and potentially treating diseases.

Broccoli – The Mega-Vegetable

Broccoli research at the PHHI greenhousesBroccoli is one of the vegetables under investigation at North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI), which is located at the NCRC. Broccoli is a mega-vegetable with numerous healthy compounds like sulforaphane, indole 3 carbonols, carotenoids, flavonoids, quercetin, folic acid and vitamins E, K and C. Eating broccoli regularly is known to help prevent certain cancers and diabetes as well as pulmonary and heart disease.

Broccoli is also a member of the brassica family that includes mustard greens, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Brassicas contain brassinosteroid homobrassinolide, a plant steroid that regulates growth, development and protein synthesis. When this plant steroid is ingested, Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky and Dr. Debora Esposito, both with PHHI, have found in an animal model that there is a positive effect on building muscle mass. (View the article.)

Dr. Allan Brown, applied molecular geneticist with PHHI, has found that broccoli has one problem. Varieties can have a four to 10-fold difference in the levels of any one of these healthy compounds. Brown is solving this problem by developing a new broccoli variety with stable levels of all of its compounds so that consumers can be assured they receive the maximum health benefit when they eat the vegetable, and farmers will have a new crop to grow. (View the article.)

Blueberries – Good to Eat, Good to Farm

A small, one-inch-size test tube of DNA extracted from a parent plant of the deciduous highbush blueberry contains a wealth of information.Blueberries are another “super food” PHHI is researching. Blueberries are high in vitamin C, fiber, manganese and antioxidants that neutralize the free radicals in the human body that are linked to aging and the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related illnesses. Brown and PHHI Director Dr. Mary Ann Lila lead a multi-institutional consortium that is the first to sequence the blueberry genome. This is important because understanding the genome improves the likelihood of new medical applications and nutritionally-enhanced varieties being developed that can benefit consumers and North Carolina’s blueberry industry, the sixth largest in the United States. (View the article.)

Read the complete article on the N.C. Research Campus website.