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Web Exclusive: Researchers say the time of day you eat veggies matters

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(CBS/KHOU) - Researchers at Rice University in Houston reveal some surprising news about the veggies you eat.  Apparently they have an "internal clock." How nutritious those veggies are may depend on what time of day you eat them.  All of that could lead to a breakthrough in the fight against cancer.

When it comes to vegetables, Bill Canino knows his stuff, but he's just now learned vegetables have "internal clocks" that help the veggies tell time. 

"Oh yeah, it's the first I've heard of this," says Bill Canino.  

Researchers at Rice say plants have "internal clocks" that control their production of chemicals that help fight cancer in humans.  The same chemicals defend the plants against bugs. The discovery is considered a major breakthrough. 

"It may be better to eat certain types of vegetables at one time of day versus another to get the most value out of them," says Rice University biologist Janet Braam.

The "time of day" is tied to the light and darkness a vegetable is exposed to even after it's picked, but researchers admit, they're still not sure just "what" time of day is best.

In time lapse video, Rice researchers say you can see a lettuce leaf that is producing those cancer-fighting chemicals, but another lead is not.  Its "internal clock" has been thrown off by the manipulation of light and darkness and that means there's nothing to repel the ants.

"If I knew I was going to get the most nutrition out of it at 3 o'clock today I would eat it at 3 o'clock today," says Linda Boleware, a shopper.  And so would a lot of people. 

It's not just lettuce with internal clocks-- spinach, zucchini and many others fruits and vegetables have them.

At Canino Produce, they're getting ready for all kinds of questions about the findings.  "So I gotta read up about it. Cause I got no idea about internal clocks," says Canino.

Neither did scientists until now. 

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