WASHINGTON, May 18-- Salad dressing aside, a pile of spinach has more nutritional value than a wedge of iceberg lettuce. That's because darker colors in leafy vegetables are often signs of antioxidants that are thought to have a variety of health benefits. Now a team of plant physiologists has developed a way to make lettuce darker and redder—and therefore healthier—using ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Steven Britz of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Md., and colleagues will present the research at the 2009 Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics/International Quantum Electronics Conference (CLEO/IQEC), which takes place May 31 to June 5 at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The dark red tinges on a leaf of red leaf lettuce are the plant kingdom's equivalent of suntan lotion. When bombarded with ultraviolet rays from the sun, the lettuce leaf creates UV-absorbing polyphenolic compounds in its outer layer of cells. Some of these compounds are red and belong to the same family that gives color to berries and apple skin. They help block ultraviolet radiation, which can mutate plant DNA and damage the photosynthesis that allows a plant to make its food.
Polyphenolic compounds,which include flavonoids like quercetin and cyanidin, are also powerful antioxidants. Diets rich in antioxidants are thought to provide a variety of health benefits to human beings, from improving brain function to slowing the wear and tear of aging.
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