You know you should eat your vegetables but you should ALSO know that a salad isn’t always a salad, unless it’s DARK green! Even the Egyptians ate their vegetables!

A spinach salad has more nutritional value than a wedge of iceberg lettuce because darker colors in leafy vegetables are often signs of antioxidants that are thought to have a variety of health benefits. Now a team of plant physiologists has found a way to make lettuce even darker and therefore healthier using the same LEDs that power our digital clocks.

Red leaves on lettuce are just as good as green, because the dark red tinges on a leaf of red leaf lettuce are the plant kingdom’s equivalent of suntan lotion. When bombarded with ultraviolet rays from the sun, the lettuce leaf creates UV-absorbing compounds in its outer layer of cells. Some of these compounds are red and belong to the same family that gives color to berries and apple skin. They are also powerful antioxidants, which provide a variety of health benefits, from improving brain function to slowing the wear and tear of aging.

To create red leaf lettuce plants enriched with these compounds, researcher Steven Britz purchased low-power LEDs that shine with UVB light, a component of natural sunlight and exposed the plants to levels of UVB light comparable to those that a beach goer would feel on a sunny day. After 43 hours of exposure to UVB light, the growing lettuce plants were noticeably redder than other plants that only saw white light.

To cut transportation costs and feed the market in the wintertime, more and more produce is being grown in greenhouses. Crops grown in the winter in northern climes receive very little UVB to begin with, and plants in greenhouses are further shielded from UVB by the glass walls. Ultraviolet LEDs could provide a way to replace and enhance this part of the electromagnetic spectrum to produce darker, more colorful HEALTHIER lettuces.

Farmers can also use UV LEDs to preserve nutrients in vegetables that have already been harvested. Previous experiments have shown that the peel of a picked apple stays redder for a longer period of time when exposed to ultraviolet light.

So the next time you go to the grocery store, you know what to look for!

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