This veggie, not that veggie — Part I

BJose Deanda (1)y Jose Deanda

LOGOS STAFF WRITER

Have you ever found yourself wondering what the difference is between all those different colored and shaped lettuces in the produce section of your local grocery store?

What about those purple, yellow and orange carrots too?

The reality is all those different vegetables are different in phytonutrient content (biologically active plant-based compounds), with some being very low and only good for fiber content and others being so high they have the potential to be more powerful than pharmaceutical medications.

You might now be wondering how one is better for you than the other. That is because of modern farming. As we’ve been taming, farming and breeding plants from the wild, we’ve inadvertently bred out the powerful healthy phytonutrients that are characteristic of wild edible plants. Some wild strains of vegetables have been shown to contain up to a hundred times more phytonutrient content then their commercial relatives. This has occurred because plant breeding, up until recently, has been performed for the purpose of taste and commercial aspects. Farmers have been looking for plants that produce large yields and can endure the process of storage and transportation. That process in itself removes many of the beneficial aspects of fresh vegetables, but we’ll get to that shortly. Just keep in mind that the wild ancestors of modern-day plants are and were far more potent nutritionally and medicinally.

Mankind has grown tremendously, so we no longer can hunt and gather as our ancestors. We must farm. What we can do is select the nutritious varieties of vegetables, which will in turn increase the demand and also the supply. Instead of farmers growing phytonutrient null vegetables, due to the new demand they will produce phytonutrient dense strains (so the paradigm says, right?). This will in turn shift to breeding for nutritional value, instead of for sweet flavor, which is a hallmark in America nowadays.

The good news is there are still domesticated strains of the same vegetables you see occupying the majority of your supermarket that are very nutritious and good for you. How so? Well, these phytonutrients, such as lutein, allicin, resveratrol and falcarinol have long been associated with health benefits such as reduced risk of cancer, reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, lower rates of obesity and even reports of improved mood. Sure, a lot of the research has been performed on lab mice, but there are studies that have been performed on humans showing positive correlations between the consumption of foods rich in these aforementioned phytonutrients and general good health. Besides, haven’t you noticed those foodies who will never eat anything that’s not wholesome and organic look a lot younger than they actually are? Aren’t they usually smiling and happy? It’s the food. These foods are rich in antioxidants that have been associated with anti-aging characteristics.

Well, which ones are better for me than the others? Before we get into that, let’s brush up on two key points on the procurement and consumption of those foods so you don’t go spend your hard-earned money on the right ones then either pick, prepare or consume them sub-optimally and get the same effect as if you had consumed the commercial type.

First, since most vegetables are produced from far away on giant farms, they are picked early then spend weeks and sometimes months at a time on shelves and or in storage containers before you actually purchase and consume them. Many times they are picked way before they are ripe, and that deprives the fruit of the final phase of maturation. This process shortchanges you the full benefit of eating your veggies.

Second, there are also some techniques in preparing and storing your vegetables so they increase their phytonutrient content, instead of the typical downhill spiral.

It’s all about consuming your food fresh. Most vegetables do not store well. You want to eat them as soon as you get them, or a day or two later at most. These antioxidants (phytonutrients) decrease the longer the vegetable is stored, so, that broccoli that’s been in the fridge for the past week is not going to do you much good. Ideally you want to pick them out of your organic home garden or a U-Pick Garden, or get them fresh from the farmer at your farmer’s market. Look for the farmer who has his produce in an ice chest. He’s storing it ideally so you get the most out of it. Another advantage of these You Pick Gardens and Farmer’s Markets is they generally supply the more nutritious strains of vegetables than your conventional grocery store.

So keep in mind, you want the colorful plant variants, which are more nutritious like their wild ancestors. You also want to consume your vegetables as fresh as possible. The longer they sit, the more phytonutrients they lose. So make it simple. Keep things colorful and fresh, both literally and otherwise.

 

E-mail Deanda at jdeanda@student.uiwtx.edu