(Nov. 30) Add another marketing possibility to the fresh-cut vegetable business: Dutch scientists have found that the chopping process actually jump-starts some of the disease-fighting properties of some items.

A research team from Wageningen University in The Netherlands has found that, although processing fruits and vegetables for freezing, canning and juicing tends to damage health-promoting glucosinolates, chopping the products for fresh sales actually can enhance those properties.

Gulcosinolates are phytochemicals that have been found to have cancer-fighting and memory-protecting properties.

Ruud Verkerk, a researcher at the university who has been studying the effects of processing on fruits and vegetables for more than 10 years, said the survey of pre-cut, frozen, ready-to-eat, juiced and canned fruit and vegetables found that the more fruit and vegetables were processed, the lower their levels of glucosilonates.

“We studied phytochemicals, and we have seen that the chopping of vegetables increases various anti-cancer properties,” said Verkerk, who conducted a study on broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts.

The reason is simple, he said.

“The chemicals are also involved in a protection mechanism on the plants,” he said. “Our hypothesis is that, because the tissue is damaged, the (compounds) act as kind of a defense mechanism.”

In other words, he said, they kick into gear as if to trigger a kind of “healing process” in the plant.

The findings are golden to the fresh-cut industry, said Jerry Welcome, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based International Fresh-cut Produce Association.

“To the extent that research would show that our products would bring better nutritional value than, say, raw, product, it is great news for our industry,” Welcome said.

But, he said he’d like to see further studies build on these findings.

“I think it really deserves more research in terms of making sure that that in fact is what they find,” he said.

Further research also might lend some help in how to put the Dutch data to marketing use, Welcome said.

“If this research is confirmed by other research, it’s obviously good news for our industry,” Welcome said. “It goes to the whole thing that people believe that fresh products are better for them, and I think this reinforces that. Anything that reinforces that is going to be good for this industry.”

Chopping was the only process that enhanced levels of glucosinolates, Verkerk said, adding that pre-cut vegetables stored in ambient conditions for 24 hours showed increased levels of the compounds.

Verkerk cautioned, however, that not all fruits and vegetables carry the same levels of glucosinolates, so the practicality of consuming all fresh-cut products simply for their disease-fighting properties likely is limited.

“There’s a lot of research that shows a correlation between intake of fruit and vegetables and lower incidence of disease, but the results can vary,” he said. “We think this could be because all types of fruit and vegetables are treated the same, but they differ a lot in the levels of glucosinolates, at least.”

Verkerk's team looked at various factors that might influence glucosinolate content in products during processing, including temperature, the actual time spent in processing and various ways fresh-cut items are prepared by consumers.

“Each group of vegetables has different types of phytochemicals and processes,” he said.

According to computer-based simulations the researchers developed, preserving health-promoting qualities of products through the production chain could lead to dramatic reductions — perhaps as much as 45% — of diseases such as colon cancer and cardiovascular disease.