Most of us know that filling our plates with fruits and vegetables is a healthy thing to do. Why, because fruits and vegetables not only provide vitamins, minerals, fiber but also phytonutrients. It is these phytonutrients that are especially helpful in reducing our risk of many chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. So is our food supply being engineered to maximize the phytonutrient content or are these nutrients being bred out of our food supply?
The New York Times had an interesting article on Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food. Researchers compared the phytonutrient content of wild plants to the produce we buy in our supermarkets.
Dandelions – used to be a food source for Native Americans. Researchers found dandeliions have 7 times the phytonutrient content of spinach.
Potatoes – the purple potato native to Peru has 28 time more of the anthocyanins than the russet potatoes we eat in the USA.
Apple – previous species had 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious apples we find our grocery stores.
Corn – Indian corn has a variety of colors, red, blue, olive, yellow and also many anthocyanins. But we mostly replaced this corn with the more popular yellow corn that is sweeter and more tender.
So why are we producing more fruits and vegetables that actually take out the beneficial phytonutrients? One reason is that these more native foods were more bitter and Americans like their foods sweeter and more bland. Another reason is that the farmers prefer to grow foods low in fiber, high in sugar and starch.
So what can consumers do to maximize the nutrients in the food choices available to us in our supermarkets? Jo Robinson, the author of the NY Times article recommends:
- Corn – choose yellow corn and the darker the yellow the more nutritious.
- Lettuce – choose spinach, darker greens, and Arugula.
- Onions – green onions resemble the wild onions of old. Green onions or scallions, have 5 times the phytonutrients of the common onions we eat. Use the green portion of the scallion as that is also full of phytonutrients.
- Herbs – use them liberally as they are loaded with phytonutrients.