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New web resource highlights research-based connections between food and disease

N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis recently published a new web resource titled, Healthy Living, found at The new section is focused on sharing information directly from PHHI researchers, specifically identifying food crops that impact disease and promote a healthy body.

An image of the human anatomy anchors the collection of research-based findings, which are categorized by diseases or common health concerns affecting each of the nine body systems. Each body system links to a list of food crops that PPHI scientists have evaluated for impact on a particular illness. Each crop page includes: a brief summary of the relevant research findings, a link directly to the journal article, a healthy recipe to utilize the crop, and a cross reference list to other body systems the crop may affect. A glossary was also developed to help users better understand the vocabulary used in the research, including plant compounds and medical terminology.

While some crops are fruits and vegetables, available locally, in season, other crops are less familiar, indigenous to other parts of the world, and may only be available from a health foods store. PHHI scientists collaborate globally, recognizing that geographically isolated populations often have a deep history of using plants as medicines. “Identifying the plant-based compounds that provide medicinal benefit will allow us to more fully utilize foods for healthy bodies,” says Dr. Mary Ann Lila, Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute.

This web resource was developed by Aubrey Mast, who joined the N.C. Cooperative Extension team at the Plants for Human Health Institute in September 2014 as an Extension associate, specializing in nutrition. Mast earned a Masters of Public Health from Walden University and a Bachelor’s degree in Health and Wellness Promotion from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

In this position, Mast works to enhance consumer awareness of the health benefits of plants. She collaborates with PHHI researchers and Extension faculty to disseminate information about the ongoing discovery and translation of the links between plants and disease prevention. She reflects, “In a society that is overwhelmed with health claims, to have access to cutting edge science that is validated in the lab and peer-reviewed, I have the opportunity to translate the research into a message that my family would understand. My goal is to help educate community members on simple steps they can take in their kitchens, which can have a huge impact on their overall health.”

In addition to building this online resource of consumer-focused information, Mast has been building partnerships with schools, local health organizations, major medical corporations and government agencies to engage new audiences who can benefit from the research effort at the Plants for Human Health Institute. Mast says, “One of the programs I’m excited about involves working with local doctor’s offices. We will incorporate chronic disease prevention with food preservation and preparation. We will give individuals and families tools, backed by science, to make real changes in their health.”

As Mast further develops the nutrition component of the Extension program at PHHI, she will continually update the Healthy Living web resource as new research from PHHI is published, highlighting food, a common thread we all share, that can lead to better health and disease prevention.

Writer: Megan Bame