Thursday, May 30, 2013

Veggie Power or Power Outage?

I am constantly trying to get me and my family to eat more fruits and vegetables.   They are the basis for health and well-being.  At least that's what I have been told.  As a gardener,I am very keen to grow hybrid versions of plants, fruits and vegetables.  They are usually easier to grow, have larger harvests, and are disease resistant.  I have never really considered whether or not they are healthier than their ancestors.

This weekend in the New York TImes, Jo Robinson wrote an interesting Op-Ed piece called, "Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food".  Mr. Robinson is the author of the soon to be published, "Eating on the Wild Side, The Missing Link to Optimum Health".   He writes about the phytonutrient content in our produce.  A phytonutrient is compound with the potential to reduce the risk of four of societies largest health problems; dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Researchers now have the capability to analyze the milligrams per pound of plants, wild and supermarket produce.  The results are pretty shocking.

Spinach and I have a love-hate relationship.  I love it sautéed and hate the way it tastes raw.  My solution has been to add it to my smoothies, soups and sauces.  It never occurred to me that I would be much better off sneaking in Dandelion Greens.  That's right, dandelion greens. They are popular in the vegan set for raw salads right now. Dandelion greens  are such a super food that they make spinach look like iceberg lettuce.  Dandelion greens have seven times the phytonutrient content of spinach.  Forget the Weed Be Gone, grab a spoon and start digging!

Farmers throughout history have worked to make produce more palatable.  This usually involves removing the bitterness and making it sweeter.  Think of a Golden Delicious Apple.  It is sweet and fairly nondescript as far as taste goes.  It also has 100 times less phytonutrients than another heirloom species of apple.  Arugula on the other hand is very bitter and similar to its ancestors.  It is loaded with flavor and phytonutrients.  The produce America gravitates to, myself included are corn and potatoes. They have basically been hybridized to globs of sugar and starch.

Some of the other produce that Robinson recommends are; herbs (parsley, rosemary, basil), purple peruvian potatoes ( 171 phytonutrients per pound versus 1.03 for a white potato), and purple/yellow carrots (38.69 phytonutrients per pound versus 2.34 for an orange carrot).  Deeper colors seem to equate to higher levels of nutrients.

U.S.D.A.plant breeders have been tirelessly working on developing produce resistant to disease.  Robinson found they have spent decades without measuring the nutrient values of the new species they have created.

The next time we begin the debate of healthcare in America, we need to address the elephants in the room, us.  We have become a nation of obese, diseased, lethargic people.  It is no surprise that our medical system is overburdened.  Until we change our thinking to preventing the current state of our diets, we will continue to grow unhealthier.  Doctors and pharmaceutical companies are just like the boy with his finger in the dam.  The dam is starting to burst along with our waistbands.

Maybe the solution to our healthcare crisis is not another diet, pill, operation or exercise craze.  Maybe the solution is changing the quality of what we eat.  Hippocrates famously said, "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".  I think it's time that we as a nation take it to heart.

I'm never going to love eating raw spinach or kale but I am sure going to try.

Get out there and grow something (preferably very deeply colored)!

Happy Gardening!

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