Since man first discovered that he could domesticate plants, we’ve been trying to make them more palatable. Most edible wild plants are too bitter, sour, astringent, tough, full of seeds, or dry to be enjoyable.
Over the past 12,000 years we’ve bred plants to not only taste better, but to be more productive and easier to harvest, store, and transport. But the real reason we eat – for nutrition – is rarely considered. So the food we now eat may be tastier and we can get it all year round, but its nutritional value has been left in the dust.
Native plants usually contain more protein, phytonutrients, and fiber than crop plants and a lot less sugar. For example:
- The original ancestor of corn, teosinte, contains a mere 2% sugar while sweet corn contains 40% sugar!
- Wild tomatoes contain 15 times more lycopene than supermarket tomatoes.
- The original apples of Nepal contain 100 times more phytonutrients than the apple varieties we’re used to eating.
Of course, these wild versions would not receive any rave reviews from a modern palate, either.
We can hardly go back to foraging all our own food, but there are some amazing “veggie hacks” you can use to get the most nutrition of out the vegetables you do eat. By properly using, storing, and preparing vegetables, you can increase their nutritional content and enhance bioavailability to get more of the nutrients you paid for.
1. Eat broccoli first.
Broccoli is one of the most perishable vegetables yet the average time from harvest to plate is a long 7 weeks. By the time you get it home it’s lost 80% of its nutrition. For this reason try to buy broccoli at a farmer’s market and buy whole heads not cut up florets. Store in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge and eat within a day or two of purchase. Eat raw or cook minimally – steam for 4 minutes or sauté lightly.
2. Tear up lettuce before you store it.
Most lettuce eaten in the US is iceburg – the least nutritious kind. The more colorful and the looser the leaf, the more nutritious it will be. One of the weirdest tips is to tear your lettuce into bite size pieces before storing. This activates it to produce more phytonutrients to protect itself from perceived predators!
Better yet, skip lettuce and make salads with spinach, wild arugula, or radicchio, which are all more nutrition-rich than lettuce.
3. Scallions trump onions.
Sweet onions are the least nutritious type of onion and scallions by far are the most nutrient dense. They contain a whopping 140 times more phytonutrients than white onions! And cutting them up won’t make you cry.
4. Buy new potatoes, organic if possible.
Potato skins contain half of a potato’s antioxidants, but they also contain most of the pesticides. So consider getting organic.
New potatoes cause a lower rise in blood sugar than larger and older potatoes. Colored potatoes that are blue, purple or almost black are the most like wild potatoes and contain the most nutrients.
5. Cook your beets.
In the US we eat very few beets, and that’s too bad! Beets are extremely nutritious and have a low glycemic index in spite of their sweetness. Beets are one of several vegetables that are actually healthier when eaten steamed (not boiled) or roasted instead of raw.
6. Bye-bye baby – carrots, that is.
Carrots are hard to break down so cooked carrots provide more beta carotene than raw.
Buying carrots with the tops left on assures they are reasonably fresh. Carrots in a bag can be months old.
If you rely on baby carrots for a healthy snack, you’ll be dismayed to learn that they are simply whittled down big carrots – NOT tender young carrots. Save money – cut your own carrots sticks.
7. Tomatoes – when bigger is not better.
Most people look forward to a big juicy tomato, but when choosing tomatoes, the smaller and the darker red, the better.
Tomatoes on the vine are more expensive but unless you find they taste better, you can give them a pass. Nutritionally they are not a big improvement.
Tomatoes are more nutritious when cooked. Cooking slightly changes the lycopene to a more bioavailable form.
Counterintuitively, processed tomatoes of any kind – paste, sauce, or diced – are often the most nutritious form! These tomatoes are usually cooked and processed within a few hours of harvest, retaining more of their phytonutrients.
Look for tomato products that come in glass jars, BPA-free cans, or tetra packs or make your own.
(For the purists out there, tomato is actually a fruit. )
8. Choose colorful versions of cabbage and cauliflower.
These two veggies are the pale members of the cruciferous family and are not the most nutrient dense. Try their colorful antioxidant rich cousins instead. Red cabbage costs more than green but contains 6 times more antioxidants.
Cauliflower is now available in colors – bright green, purple and even orange. You might think these are some weird mutants, but actually it’s the other way around. The colorful versions are closer to wild forms. The white cauliflower we’re used to is a mutant albino.
9. Cook your kale.
Kale and collards come close to being as healthy as wild greens. But it’s best not to add these raw greens to smoothies or salads.
Raw greens are high in oxalic acid which can lead to muscle weakness, kidney stones, gout and low thyroid function. Lightly steaming first destroys oxalic acid.
10. Eating asparagus is a walk on the wild side.
The asparagus we eat today has barely changed from its wild ancestors making it one of the most nutritious vegetables. I guess we saw no need to improve on perfection! It’s one more veggie best to eat steamed rather than raw. Steaming increases antioxidant availability by 30%.
11. Use an onion to keep avocados fresh.
Wild avocados (another fruit) are ½ the size of an egg and mostly pit with little flesh.
It doesn’t seem possible that something so smooth and creamy could be fibrous but an avocado contains as much fiber as 2 bowls of oatmeal!
If you are left with ½ an avocado, keeping the pit in place then applying lemon juice is the old standby to keep it from turning brown. But what I found works even better is to put a thin slice of raw onion on top. Remove the center rings to leave room for the pit. No more brown, mushy leftovers.
Using these tips can give your more nutrition and more value for your veggie dollar. But of course the best “veggie hack” of all is to grow your own or buy locally grown produce at nearby farmers’ markets.
SOURCE: Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. She teaches the best ways to stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com. Learn how to protect your brain and optimize your brainpower – sign up for her free e-course 21 Days to a Brighter Brain here.