Happy Eat Your Vegetables Day
Are Your Veggies Happy?
Throw veggies in the crisper—and good luck using them before they go totally limp. If that’s your approach toward vegetables, there might be a better way on the horizon.
Fruits and vegetables are still very much alive after they come home with us—so alive, in fact, that they can tell what time it is, suggests new research published in the journalCurrent Biologyfrom Rice University and the University of California at Davis. Even after harvest, produce operates on a circadian clock, responding to light cycles that change the levels of phytochemicals they produce.
The team studied spinach, lettuce, carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and blueberries and found that when they exposed the produce to light/dark cycles, they could actually manipulate their internal clocks.
For proof of why that’s important, look no further than the humble cabbage. During their life cycles, cabbages produce high levels of compounds called glucosinolates that help them fight off insects. “They’re also potent natural anti-cancer compounds,” said Janet Braam, PhD, lead researcher of the study who is chair and professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice University. She and her team found that even after cabbage came home from the grocery store, it produced twice as many glucosinolates during the day when exposed to a light/dark cycle. That suggests there are optimal times to eat, can, freeze, and preserve veggies in order to maximize their nutrients.
Right now, we pretty much treat our produce as if it’s already dead, burying it in the dark recesses of our fridge. But more research like this could one day change our storage habits. Though findings are still preliminary, Dr. Braam imagines that we might start installing lights in our refrigerators and in the produce sections at grocery stores.
“It may have important implications for human nutrition,” she said.
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