We often are reminded of the famous Greek physician’s proclamation of 2,500 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
So, taking this admonition to practice, if we pile our plates with fresh fruits and veggies we will all achieve optimal health.
But, according to health writer and author of Eating on the Wild Side, “If we want to get maximum health benefits from fruits and vegetables, we must choose the right varieties.
“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 some of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
“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.”
Wild dandelions, for example, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than my favorite vegetable spinach, which we all consider a “superfood.”
Purple potatoes, native to Peru, have 28 times more cancer-fighting nutrients anthocyanins than our common russet potatoes. There are species of apples that have 100 times more phytonutrients than the favorite of many: Golden Delicious.
According to Robinson, “Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or a stringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil.”
Over time, we’ve reduced the nutrients and increased the sugar and starch content of hundreds of other fruits and vegetables. Here are a few suggestions to recoup some our lost nutrients:
• Select corn with deep yellow kernels. To recapture the lost health preserving anthocyanins and beta-carotene, cook with blue, red or purple cornmeal, instead of the yellow option. Enjoy a stack of blue cornmeal pancakes for Sunday breakfast and top with butter and maple syrup.
• If you are shopping for lettuce, look for arugula. Arugula, also called salad rocket, is very similar to its wild ancestor. The greens are rich in cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates and higher in antioxidant activity than many green lettuces.
Finally, here a few additional tips to follow Hippocrates’ admonition:
• Slicing, chopping, or pressing garlic and letting it rest for 10 minutes before cooking, boosts its ability to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease. I have been following this suggestion since reading this book, and this may be a reason behind my improved blood pressure levels.
• Cooked carrots have twice as much beta-carotene as raw carrots. I have noticed my carrots taste better prepared this way!
• Tearing romaine lettuce the day before you eat it doubles its antioxidant value. One way I enjoy my romaine is as a lettuce wrap, either in place of a tortilla or a burger bun.
• Red cherry tomatoes have up to 12 times more lycopene than red beefsteak tomatoes.
• Ounce per ounce, there is more fiber in raspberries than in bran cereals. For my breakfast last week I harvested and enjoyed a couple of juicy handfuls from our backyard. The picking is fun, the berries tasted great, and my fiber needs for the day have been met.
Yes, let your food be your medicine!
Yaakov Levine is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.