Everyone knows about the importance of vitamins and minerals in our diet, but the phytonutrients in our food also play a huge role in keeping us healthy.
Phytonutrients are the many chemicals that plants produce in order to help them survive from diseases, insects, animals and the like, and those same chemicals ingested by humans help us to survive as well.
While we know that a handful of vitamins and minerals are needed for our health, there are more than 8,000 phytonutrients that have been identified so far in fruits and vegetables. Most plants contain at least several hundred. Many of these nutrients work together to keep us healthy – they serve as antioxidants; they help to lower blood pressure and improve our vascular health; they boost our immunity and help us to fight infection; and they even seem to protect the brain.
Fruits and vegetables that are raised organically are felt to have more phytonutrients than those raised commercially, since organic plants tend to be hardier as they learn to survive without the benefit of pesticides and insecticides.
Some of our modern varieties of fruits and vegetables, however, are lower in phytonutrients, in part because they have been bred to contain more sugar to please our modern palates. Some foods can also lose huge amounts of these nutrients if they are stored or cooked improperly. It can be challenging to know how to get the most out of the foods that we buy.
Jo Robinson, a health writer, food activist and farmer, has written a book called “Eating on the Wild Side” to help us make the best choices in fruits and vegetables so that we can maximize our nutrient intake and get the most from the beautiful produce at farmers markets or on the grocery store shelves.
From its pages, you will get a wonderful education on the changes that have taken place in agriculture over the past century, and you will discover new ways to enhance your health by choosing the best that nature has to offer us. For example, did you know that the precursor to modern corn as we know it was 30 percent protein and 5 percent sugar, while some of the newer species of super-sweet corn contain up to 40 percent sugar? That’s like putting a candy bar on your plate instead of a vegetable.
Here are some of Robinson’s recommendations for choosing the healthiest fruits and veggies: