KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — One of the major goals of Dole’s Nutrition Research Laboratory is to prove to consumers how healthy fruits and vegetables are, and director Nick Gillitt has the perfect test subjects: A NASCAR pit crew.
Gillitt, who is also an organic chemist, would like to test fruit and vegetables’ ability to keep oxidative stress down, which is another way of saying helping people recover faster after exercise.
But the challenge is to find a subject group that will actually follow the directions of eating prescribed amounts of food, which is where the pit crew comes in.
Gillitt said he’s talked with NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, headquartered in nearby Concord, which owns cars driven by Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hendrick employs 10 pit crew members for each of the 4 teams, a perfect number for an experiment.
“Competition to get into that group is intense, so they stay in,” Gillitt said. “It’s a controlled population. They will do it.”
Five years in
The Dole Nutrition Institute opened in the fall of 2008 in Kannapolis, on the site of a former textile mill, which employed thousands of workers before it lost business to cheaper imports.
Dole president and chief executive officer David Murdock built the institute to provide consumers with scientifically tested data showing how beneficial fresh fruits and vegetables are to eat.
“He’s not a scientist,” Gillitt said, “but he realizes how important science is.”
Gillitt is one of four full-time Dole scientists at the laboratory, which is housed in the institute. But in the campus’ three buildings, he said there are more than 300 scientists and 600 workers.
The institute has partnerships with eight local universities and one community college who operate on the campus:
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which runs the Nutrition Research Institute;
North Carolina State University, which runs the Plants for Human Health Institute;
University of North Carolina-Charlotte;
North Carolina A&T University;
North Carolina Central University;
University of North Carolina-Greensboro;
Appalachian State University;
Duke University; and
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
The study using a NASCAR pit crew may sound ambitious, but Gillitt said the research lab has already conducted and published one showing bananas’ effectiveness during exercise, using Appalachian State cyclists.