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A set of various kidney beans. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Scientists Across the Country Working to Create More Nutrient-Dense Diets

Guest Author
Sara Delheimer, Multistate Research Fund Impacts Program, and National Impact Writing Team

Many American diets don’t include enough basic nutrients, which can lead to health issues as we age. Low-nutrient diets can lead to issues such as macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and diabetes. Improving the nutritional quality of basic crops through plant breeding is a cost-effective, sustainable way to address these nutritional needs.  

With support from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Land-grant University researchers across the country are seeking ways to make the foods we eat each day more nutrient-dense, for lifelong health and wellness. 

Breeding Better Beans 

Research has led to beans with more nutrients, better color, and other desirable qualities for consumers and processors. Researchers identified genomic regions in black beans that contribute to color retention after canning, and Cornell University scientists developed kidney beans with better shape and size. These qualities are important to consumers. Researchers developed varieties with uniform maturity and faster cook times, which makes the canning process more cost-efficient.  

North Dakota State University scientists developed pinto beans that do not darken as quickly after harvest, giving them a more appealing color. The new varieties are also faster cooking and higher in iron and have better bean size and yield than previous slow-darkening varieties. These qualities are appealing to consumers and growers. 

Research is also guiding the production of healthy, bean-based foods. Scientists at Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska showed that bean pastas have more protein and minerals than wheat pastas, and 36% of surveyed consumers would purchase bean pastas. Researchers at Colorado State University, Oregon State University, University of Wisconsin, University of Wyoming, and Washington State University are involved in the development and testing of popping beans, which have potential to be a convenient, healthy snack food. 

Other Crop Improvements 

Sweet corn, one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in the U.S., is a natural target for micronutrient biofortification. Scientists in New York are working to incorporate more carotenoids into this crop. Carotenoids are key for delaying onset of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the elderly.  

Researchers in Louisiana found a way to lower the high glycemic index while also raising the protein content of rice, a staple food across the world. This new rice variety provides possible solutions to two major health issues – diabetes and obesity.  

In New Mexico, scientists also are exploring adding carotenoids, this time to chile peppers, to aid in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in addition to promoting eye health. Their goal is to find exciting dietary sources of these micronutrients, for use in food products such as salsa and enchilada sauces. 

(Content in this post first appeared on and 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products
Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health
U.S. States and Territories
New Mexico
New York
North Dakota

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