Scientists have discovered purple corn may help reduce the risk of major health diseases.

While developing new types of purple corn, the researchers found some with elevated levels of a naturally occurring chemical that may fight obesity, inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.

The research team, led by food science professor Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia and crop sciences professor John Juvik, created 20 varieties of the Apache Red maize strain.

Each variety had a different amount and type of anthocyanins, which is the element that gives the maize its distinct color. Studies have shown that eating anthocyanin-rich foods may reduce the risk of disease.

In one finding, the scientists tested specific compounds in purple corn against insulin resistance. The study done on mice found that insulin resistance decreased by 29 to 64 percent. More studies are needed, but this study suggests the compound in purple corn may help people who are obese.

Juvik also noted that the natural color of purple corn could potentially be used as a food color replacement for red dye No. 40 which is one of the major dyes used in the United States. People could then easily gain some health benefits through a natural, anthocyanin-rich pigment dye that is added to foods and beverages.

The research out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is funded through the Hatch Act. Hatch funds support agricultural research to solve problems that concern more than one state.