Sweeter veg "are less healthy than more bitter varieties"

Breeding more palatable vegetables is leading to a loss in their nutritional value, a front-page article in the current New Scientist claims.

Image: Steven Lilley
Image: Steven Lilley

It blames this on the removal by selection of bitter-tasting phytonutrients, which are actually toxic in large doses but which have been shown to protect the body against a range of conditions from ulcers to cancers, as well as having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

"De-bittering" processes applied to some crops post-harvest can further reduce their nutritional value, it says.

Among phytonutrients with known health benefits in fresh produce are glucosinolates in brassicas, sulforaphane in broccoli, solanine in potatoes, tomatine in tomatoes, and quercetin and beta-carotene found in many vegetables and fruit.

Published research has shown that:

  • the Atlantic variety of broccoli has three times the beta-carotene content of Packman;
  • the Savannah Sweet onion has 500 times more quercetin than Contessa;
  • wild tomatoes contain 166 times more tomatine than typical modern cultivars.

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