FFAR Awards $1 Million Grant to Improve Health through Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

North Carolina State University researchers seek to improve nutritional content of food products

The research team from North Carolina State University includes (from left to right): Massimo Iorizzo (Ph.D.), Mario Ferruzzi (Ph.D.), Mary Ann Lila (Ph.D.), and Colin Kay (Ph.D.).

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, awarded a $1 million Seeding Solutions grant to North Carolina State University, where researchers will study the micronutrients and bioactive phytochemicals provided by fruits and vegetables used in food products. This approach will help food companies develop products that more effectively deliver the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from the Dole Food Company, Standard Process, Inc., and NC State University for a total $2 million investment.

“The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is proud to support research that will impact the health and wellbeing of consumers,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “This project exemplifies how science can help us understand nutrition and optimize the health benefits we’re receiving from the foods we eat every day.”

An estimated 87 percent of U.S. consumers do not eat the recommended 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. The goal of this research is to improve the nutritional density of common fruits and vegetables in a range of consumer products. Researchers said it is not about how many fruits and vegetables are on your plate but rather how the health benefits can be more effectively delivered to the body. Researchers will use cutting-edge genetic and phenotype mapping of blueberries, bananas and spinach to identify breeding practices to enhance the nutritional content of these foods.

The ways in which different food products are prepared and processed affects the nutritional content of those products. Once researchers study the genetic attributes that improve nutritional quality, they will develop more accurate equivalencies between whole fruits or vegetables and products that contain them as an ingredient, such as snacks, beverages and prepared meals.

The research is being led by Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PI) Mario Ferruzzi, Ph.D., and Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., with the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University.

“It’s incredibly difficult to change consumer behavior and increase the number of servings consumed,” said Lila, “but by examining how the genetic makeup of a plant affects the density and availability of bioactive phytochemicals and micronutrients, we can possibly improve processing and ingredient formulation so that every serving that is consumed provides greater health benefit. This project represents a direct interface between plant genetics, food science and nutrition science that we believe will help close the gap between dietary guidance and actual fruit and vegetable consumption.”

Researchers will partner with industry collaborators to access fruit and vegetable products for analysis and provide guidance for how to integrate recommendations into the food chain.

“The quality of our crops and their nutrient densities play a big role in supporting the health of our nation,” said John Troup, Ph.D., vice president of Standard Process, Inc. “This project will play an important role in advancing the health and wellness interests of consumers and practitioners over time and so represents an exciting program and collaboration we are proud to support and be a part of.”

Researchers on this project, “Closing the gap in delivery of fruit and vegetable benefits,” include:

  • Mario Ferruzzi, Ph.D., co-PI, professor at North Carolina State University
  • Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., co-PI, David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University
  • Massimo Iorizzo, Ph.D., co-investigator, assistant professor at North Carolina State University
  • Colin Kay, Ph.D., co-investigator, associate professor at North Carolina State University

This project is supported by FFAR through its Seeding Solutions grant program, which calls for bold, innovative, and potentially transformative research proposals in the Foundation’s seven Challenge Areas. This grant supports the Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area, which aims to increase the production and accessibility of nutritious foods.

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About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Learn more: www.foundationfar.org Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

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