Plants Respond to Circadian Rhythms

Storing produce in light-dark cycles may optimize nutrient capacity

Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and nutrients, but those benefits start to lose their value once picked produce is sitting on shelves.

A new study shows that much like humans, plants respond to circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythm is the biological schedule dictated by responses to cycles of light and dark. For plants, this means that there are certain times of day that are determined by light levels, in which nutritionally beneficial compounds accumulate.

More research is still needed, but it’s possible that if harvested vegetables are stored under light-dark cycles that emulate the natural progression of daylight, we may be able to maximize the nutrients of our store-bought produce. 

Typically, once crops are harvested and shipped for distribution, they are kept in darkness to avoid spoilage. During this process, the levels of helpful compounds in our food diminish.

Scientists have found that plants like sweet potatoes, spinach, and blueberries will continue to accumulate beneficial compounds even once harvested, but that they tend to peak in the afternoon. And how does a plant tell when it’s afternoon? Light sensitivity. 

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