PhotoAlthough young children and picky eaters often turn their nose up at it, broccoli is one of the most nutritious superfoods out there. And now, it looks like researchers are taking steps to make it even better.

A study conducted by scientists from the University of Illinois has identified certain candidate genes that control the amount of phenolic compounds found in broccoli. These compounds, along with certain flavonoids, are associated with lower risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, asthma, and a variety of cancers.

By cross-breeding particular strains of broccoli, the researchers believe that they can create new strains of the vegetable that have “mega-doses” of phenolic compounds.

Promoting phenolic compound grow

Experts have long known that phenolic compounds go a long way towards promoting health, but it is their interaction with inflammation that is most notable.

“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,” said Jack Juvik, a geneticist at the University of Illinois.

“People whose diets consist of a certain level of these compounds will have a lesser risk of contracting these diseases,” he adds.

Branching to other vegetables

The researchers note that promoting the accumulation of phenolic compounds does not have to be limited to broccoli alone. They are also investigating other Brassica vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, to see how susceptible they are to the promotion of phenolic compounds.

While they hope that these and other vegetables can develop mega-doses of phenolic compounds, they recognize that it may take some time before that happens.

“This work is a step in that direction, but it 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,” said Juvik.

The full study has been published in the journal Molecular Breeding

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