Have you ever walked around the produce department of your grocery store and felt overwhelmed? Wandered the Farmer’s Market and wondered how to choose from the vast selection? Felt frustrated because you don’t know how to tell if something is ripe or what is the best way to prepare it?
I believe strongly that “Food is Medicine” and it’s my first line of defense for keeping my family healthy.
Yet when I’m out shopping, I often struggle to know what foods are the best choices for my family. I read about spinach losing most of its nutrients after 5 days and I get worried that just sitting in the store has wasted it all! I get so overwhelmed, that quite frankly my buying decisions go something like this…
“Oooooo, that looks pretty. I’ll buy that.”
Ha! But guess what?
You Can Buy Produce to Maximize Nutrients!
There are more and less healthy options…
Turns out, when it comes to shopping for produce, choosing based on color is actually not a bad method. We’ve all heard the advice to “eat the rainbow” (choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables), but I discovered an amazing book that takes that idea one step farther… and can super-charge your family’s health.
Being a good kitchen steward I wanted to share what I learned with my fellow KS readers so we can all get the most nutrition and health benefits and put our money towards the best options.
Getting the Most Nutrition out of your Produce (from “Eating on the Wild Side” by Jo Robinson)
Years ago, I heard a radio interview featuring the author and investigative science/health journalist Jo Robinson talking about her new book called Eating on the Wild Side. As someone who is passionate about food, health, and gardening, I found the interview to be utterly fascinating and knew I needed to read the book.
When the book arrived, I couldn’t put it down! There was so much useful information. By the time I was finished, I had 10 pages of handwritten notes from the book that I could take with me to the grocery store to help me choose the most nutritious varieties of produce.
Many of the ideas and concepts in the book were surprising to me. I knew that consuming a diet high in produce was important, but Robinson gives very specific instructions on how to choose the best produce, then serve according to the best method for optimal nutrition.
I can’t even begin to share all the incredible finds that Robinson reveals in her book, but I created a quick “Cheat Sheet” to guide you next time you are at the grocery store or farmers market.
To find out more, be sure to read her book called Eating on the Wild Side. For a non-fiction book about health and nutrition, it was surprisingly entertaining and easy to read. Check it out!
Getting the Healthiest Fruits and Vegetables is All About Seeking the Highest Nutrients
Robinson introduces a few important words/concepts regarding nutrition that might be unfamiliar to readers, so here are some quick explanations:
- Bionutrient: Any materials that are inputted to a biological process. Foods, vitamins, and. minerals are examples of bionutrients.
- Phytonutrient: Chemicals produced by plants to stay healthy (ex. fend of insects, protect from disease, etc). They can also provide health benefits for humans who eat plant foods. They are considered to be antioxidants and anti-inflammatory.
- Antioxidant: A substance that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.
* Bonus: If you are gardener (like Robinson and myself), she recommends the best varieties of many fruits/vegetables you can grow for optimal health. This information was very helpful when looking through seed/plant catalogs.
My Top 10 Healthy Produce Tips from “Eating on the Wild Side”
1. Eat Broccoli Quickly:
- Broccoli is a cancer-fighting superstar, but it begins to lose its cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours. Fresh is best, so grow your own if possible or use farmers market broccoli the same day.
- Raw is better than cooked. If you must cook it, lightly steam it for no more than 4 minutes or lightly saute.
2. Choose Pretty Cauliflower:
- Colored cauliflower is more healthful than white and can be stored for about week without compromising its nutrition value.
3. Getting Onions/Garlic/Alliums Right
- Garlic has incredible anti-bacterial and health properties (called “allicin”) but in order for these properties to be “unlocked” and benefit our health, the garlic must be sliced, crushed or pressed and allowed to sit for 10 minutes before cooking. (Katie teaches this as a “Daily Nugget” factoid in her online Kids Cook Real Food class!)
- Small onions have more antioxidants than large onions
- Sweet onions do not have significant health benefits. Choose yellow, white or red onions instead.
- Ounce for ounce, shallots have 6x the phytonutrients of onions.
4. Pretty Potatoes with Skins
- Colored are best, especially “blue/purple” potatoes. “Purple Peruvian” potato has 28x more bionutrients than a Russet Burbank potato.
- Peeling a potato removes 50% of the antioxidants and most of the fiber. Leave those skins on!
- Conventional potatoes are sprayed with sprout inhibitor during storage. If you want to avoid this, choose Organic potatoes.
5. Cook, Don’t Freeze, Your Carrots
- Purple carrots have more antioxidants than orange.
- Frozen carrots have half the nutrients of fresh carrots.
- Carrots benefit from being cooked (lightly steamed or sauteed). The heat breaks down cell walls and makes the nutrients more bioavailable than if they are consumed raw.
6. Cook those Tomatoes
- Deep red tomatoes have more lycopene (a type of antioxidant) than yellow tomatoes.
- Smaller tomatoes (cherry type) contain more vitamin C and other nutrients. “Currant” type tomatoes are the best.
- Tomatoes become more healthful the longer you cook them – it increases their lycopene content. Tomato paste is an incredible source of lycopene. (Finally, something canned we can buy! Watch for BPA free cans or order in glass via Amazon or Thrive Market.)
7. Maximizing Nutrients in Lettuce/Greens
- “Loose leaf” greens/lettuces have more phytonutrients than head lettuces.
- Red or purple greens/lettuces are the most nutritious. Dark green is also good.
- The more bitter the green/lettuce, the more nutritious it is.
- To prepare greens/lettuce, soak the leaves in ice water for 10 minutes, then tear into small pieces
8. Berries: Smaller is better
- Blueberries are nutritional superstars, full of antioxidants. Frozen blueberries are nearly as nutritious as fresh.
- Smaller, darker blueberries are the most nutritious (so pay attention to what varieties U-Pick blueberry farms are offering. “Rubel” blueberries are hands down the nutrition winner).
- Cooked berries actually have more antioxidants than fresh berries. The heat makes the phytonutrients more bioavailable. Make berry sauce!
- Dried berries are the least nutritious choice.
- White flesh peaches/nectarines have up to 6x more antioxidants than yellow-fleshed varieties.
- Apricots have 3-8x more phytonutrients than peaches.
10. Citrus “Healthiest” Rules May Surprise You
- Cara Cara Oranges are higher in antioxidant than Navel Oranges. Blood Oranges are even higher than Cara Cara!
- The pith (the white layer between the fruit and the peel) is the most nutritious part of citrus. Try to include some of it when you eat/prepare citrus fruits.
- Lemon juice helps to preserve phytonutrients in other foods. Sprinkle on your salad or fruits.
- Ripe limes are actually yellowish, not green. Choose the yellowest limes you can find.
I hope these tips were helpful and informative… but remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg!
For the rest of the fascinating story about food and nutrition, be sure to read Jo Robinson’s book. You’ll never look at grocery shopping the same way again!
Robinson’s book educated and empowered me to make better choices regarding my family’s health. I no longer feel confused and overwhelmed at the store or market, now that I have a plan and know what choices are best.
If you appreciated the balance and depth of the review you just read, you will love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!