Already known for its super health benefits, scientists have found a way to give broccoli even more of a boost, by identifying the genes which control the vegetable's phenolic compounds.
Phenolic compounds are beneficial to health thanks to their levels of flavonoids, which spread through the body via the bloodstream, reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, asthma, and several types of cancer.
As the body doesn't make flavonoids itself, they must be consumed through diet, with recommendations suggesting eating broccoli or other cruciferous vegetable every three or four days to reap the health benefits, with the vegetables alsoretaining their health-promoting nutrients even when cooked.
Now however researchers from the University of Illinois have found genes that control the accumulation of phenolic compounds in broccoli, an important discovery for breeding broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables such as kale and cabbage with mega-doses of phenolic compounds for extra health benefits.
"Phenolic compounds have good antioxidant activity, and there is increasing evidence that this antioxidant activity affects biochemical pathways affiliated with inflammation in mammals. We need inflammation because it's a response to disease or damage, but it's also associated with initiation of a number of degenerative diseases. People whose diets consist of a certain level of these compounds will have a lesser risk of contracting these diseases," explains University of Illinois geneticist Jack Juvik.
"It's going to take awhile," Juvik added referring to the possibility of a breeding program to boost the levels of phenolic compounds, "This work is a step in that direction, but is not the final answer. We plan to take the candidate genes we identified here and use them in a breeding program to improve the health benefits of these vegetables. Meanwhile, we'll have to make sure yield, appearance, and taste are maintained as well."
Juvik's latest research, published this month in the journal Molecular Breeding, follows his earlier 2014 research which resulted in a new natural and inexpensive way of producing a broccoli with a longer shelf life and even more health benefits.