Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for our health, right? We've all heard that for years, and it is true. But according to Jo Robinson, author of the forthcoming book Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, what really matters is choosing the right varieties of those fruits and vegetables.
Robinson's recent article in The New York Times Studies asserts that much of the produce available in supermarkets now is "relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease,diabetes and dementia" — a fact he attributes to overbreeding and our reduced intake of wild plants.
This happened over centuries, actually. Because plants high in phytonutrients often have a bitter or astringent taste, early farmers didn't cultivate them as much, and instead favored plants high in sugar and starch. As a result, "the more palatable our fruits and vegetables became... the less advantageous they were for our health."
As examples, Robinson details the degenerative history of corn — from wild, multi-colored "Indian corn" to the sweet, high-sugar corn we see nowadays. Breeding fruits and vegetables to be sweeter appeals to human nature (no surprise there!). In fact, Robinson says that we, as a nation, have "reduced the nutrients and increased the sugar and starch content of hundreds of other fruits and vegetables."
So what does this all mean for us when we go shopping? Look for arugula, Robinson says, which is very close nutritionally to its wild ancestor. Scallions have five times more phytonutrients than regular onions, and herbs are "wild plants incognito."
This info probably isn't very surprising, but I always find it interesting to see how our food system has changed over the years. How about you?