We’ve reduced the nutrients and increased the sugar and starch content of hundreds of other fruits and vegetables. How can we begin to recoup the losses? Some simple ideas from a recent New York Times article, “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food”, may get us all thinking about the history of food in America and how understanding its development can help us recapture lost nutrients.
Idea 1 – Select corn with deep yellow kernels. To recapture the lost anthocyanins and beta-carotene, cook with blue, red or purple cornmeal, which is available in some supermarkets and on the Internet. Make a stack of blue cornmeal pancakes for Sunday breakfast and top with maple syrup.
Idea 2 – In the lettuce section, look for arugula. Arugula, also called salad rocket, is very similar to its wild ancestor. Some varieties were domesticated as recently as the 1970s, thousands of years after most fruits and vegetables had come under our sway. The greens are rich in cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates and higher in antioxidant activity than many green lettuces.
Idea 3 -Scallions, or green onions, are jewels of nutrition hiding in plain sight. They resemble wild onions and are just as good for you. Remarkably, they have more than five times more phytonutrients than many common onions do. The green portions of scallions are more nutritious than the white bulbs, so use the entire plant. Herbs are wild plants incognito. We’ve long valued them for their intense flavors and aroma, which is why they’ve not been given a flavor makeover. Because we’ve left them well enough alone, their phytonutrient content has remained intact.
Idea 4 – Experiment with using large quantities of mild-tasting fresh herbs. Add one cup of mixed chopped Italian parsley and basil to a pound of ground grass-fed beef or poultry to make “herb-burgers.” Herbs bring back missing phytonutrients and a touch of wild flavor as well.
You may enjoy reading the whole article from Sunday’s Opinion section. According to the author, studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce 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. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers. These insights have been made possible by new technology that has allowed researchers to compare the phytonutrient content of wild plants with the produce in our supermarkets. The results are startling. Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets.
Touching on the politics and economics of food, the article goes on to talk about how George Washington’s scorched earth policy against the Iroquois led to the discovery of a sweeter variety of corn with deep yellow kernels – sweeter than the blue, green, red, and even black varieties harvested by Native Americans – rich with 60 times more beta-carotene than white corn, full of Vitamin A to build strong vision and the immune system. Jo Robinson, author of the forthcoming book Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, next shares how in 1959, a geneticist named John Laughnan was the first to commercialize hybrid, super-sweet corn, reportedly the first GMO to enter the American market. The pale yellow and white kernel corn most of us eat today are almost 40% sugar and largely devoid of nutritional value.
Many thanks to my daughter, Rachael, for bring this article to my attention. It just goes to show you that a lifetime of cooperative living can help our children lead healthier and more conscious lives!