The Nutrition Science and Food Chemistry Laboratory focuses on examining foods and the by-products of food production to find active biological components, to add value to agricultural products and by-products, and to improve human health through disease prevention or treatment. ARS scientists are working to understand the health benefits of phytochemicals and to explore the mechanisms behind the link between diet and chronic diseases.
They investigate by-products, which consist of the seeds and skins of vegetables and fruits that remain after processing; although these are generally treated as waste, many contain valuable compounds such as vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants, and polyphenols, and their use may lead to reduced risk of chronic diseases such as inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Ongoing research focuses on: green papaya, which contains compounds that may be useful in treating or lowering the risk of diabetes; turmeric, which may have the anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties associated with curcumin, one of its ingredients; and plums, a rich source of polyphenols, which help in muscle metabolism. The main objectives of the Nutrition Science and Food Chemistry Lab are to provide a link to scientific information on diet and health for farmers, consumers, and scientists and to train future generations of students and scientists in the nutrition sciences.
At a time when consumers seek to improve their overall quality of life through healthy eating, the growing demand for healthy food may lead to increases in the value of many common and specialty crops produced by farmers on a local and a national scale. The long-term goal of the program is to promote healthy eating, to stimulate farm economies, and to reduce health care costs in the Commonwealth of Virginia.