Foods which contain high levels of healthy antioxidants have been much in the news recently, with just this week new evidence emerging that fruit and vegetables which contain large quantities of antioxidants can help combat the onset of Alzheimer's.
Not surprisingly, therefore, researchers are keen to learn more about the antioxidant content of foods in order to maximise the health benefits, as well as creating new varieties of fruits and vegetables which contain ever higher quantities of the cancer-fighting phytochemicals.
Researchers from the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, led by Dr David Byrne, are focusing on peaches, a fruit which is known to have a substantial antioxidant content.
"The trend is to develop varieties that have more health benefits, because the public is becoming more health conscious and making decisions based on that," Byrne said. "Twenty years ago, the (breeding) emphasis was on big and pretty. That's still important, but now we are looking at quality and trying to develop peaches with better health benefits."
Preliminary results from a test conducted by Byrne and Dr Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, Experiment Station food technologist, showed that peaches have good to excellent antioxidant activity, some antimicrobial activity, potential for use as a natural food colorant and good to excellent tumour growth inhibition activity.
"We're developing the groundwork to show that peaches really do have the health benefits," Byrne said. "The first step is to understand what the phytochemicals do, to make sure they are doing something useful so that we can increase the levels effectively.
"There is a lot of active work in this area to increase the health benefits and the flavour as well as to extend the range of adaptation," Byrne said.