Farming practices—whether conventional or organic—play a key roll in the nutritional composition of produce, according to several studies by University of California, Davis, researchers.

Alyson Mitchell, an associate professor of food science, delivered an overview of her reserach at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

These "bioactive" compounds include certain flavonoids, vitamins and plant pigments. Scientists are particularly interested in them because they are thought to help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and other age-related diseases, according to a news release.

Plant genetics and environmental factors strongly influence the levels of these compounds in crops, Mitchell says.

But she says evidence shows that different methods of growing, storing and processing crops also can affect the nutritional content of food products.

In the prsentation, Mitchell and report co-author Eunmi Koh explored the findings of several different studies that examined flavonoid levels in tomatoes; compared vitamin C, flavonoid and nitrate levels in organic and conventionally grown spinach; and probed the influence of heat processing on nutritionally important compounds in tomatoes.

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