The UK-bred Beneforte broccoli variety has been found to take up greater quantities of sulphur from the soil. It then turns this into the compound glucoraphanin, which has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
The study, published in New Phytologist, identifies a gene in Beneforte that enables it to produce the compound more consistently than conventional varieties.
Institute of Food Research programme leader Professor Richard Mithen is now leading studies to better understand how glucoraphanin in Beneforte exerts its effects on human health.
A project in the USA aims to double quantities of the antioxidant lutein in broccoli, again through hybridisation with wild relatives. Lutein is thought to help ward off age-related eye disorders including cataracts and macular degeneration.
Meanwhile, beetroot has been found to lower blood pressure due to its high nitrate content, according to a study published in the journal Hypertension. It found that patients suffering high blood pressure experienced a short-term drop of 10mmHg after drinking just one 250ml cup of beetroot juice.
But a response on the NHS website (www.nhs.uk) said the sample size of 15 is small and added that the study did not look at the long-term impact on the condition from consuming beetroot.