I’m a fan of Science Friday on National Public Radio (NPR), so when I heard an interview with the author of Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health I was intrigued and immediately downloaded the book to my iPad.
The premise of the book is not just “eat more fruits and vegetables” but rather “which varieties of fruits and vegetables to eat for optimum health and how to prepare them.” I will give you some idea of what I learned, but I suggest you get your own copy of the book to learn more.
While gluten-free isn’t the focus of this book, I’m always interested in improving the nutritional quality of my diet and I learned a ton—especially about two foods I eat often, garlic and apples.
It was the author’s discussion of garlic on NPR that grabbed my attention. You probably know that garlic offers several health benefits: the author mentions antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, anticlotting, and anticancer. But these benefits are seriously inhibited if the garlic isn’t prepared correctly…and most of us (including me) have been doing it wrong.
Instead of just tossing the whole, peeled garlic clove into the pot, you should mince it finely with a knife on a cutting board or better yet, use a garlic press (even though Julia Child disdained the garlic press and said that it was used only by “non-cooks”). And, then let the minced garlic stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before cooking it. Otherwise, the heat destroys the garlic’s health benefits.
What’s going on here? Garlic has two compounds: one is a protein fragment called alliin and the other is a heat-sensitive enzyme called alliinase. In the intact garlic clove, the two compounds are isolated in separate compartments, but they need each other to make garlic good for you. They don’t commingle until you mince the clove, but then they need at least 10 minutes of “mingling” time at room temperature to produce garlic’s health benefit, which is called allicin. I’m hauling out the garlic press!
I always thought the nutrient value of all apples was about the same, regardless of variety and how they’re prepared. It turns out that I should be more discriminating because apples vary considerably in their nutrient content. Amazingly, one of the most popular varieties in stores, Golden Delicious, is one of the least nutritious. It has far fewer antioxidants than other varieties such as Granny Smith (the most nutritious of the common varieties which include Braeburn, Cortland, Discovery, Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Liberty, Melrose, and Red Delicious).
In the grocery store, select apples with the reddest skins. The red color comes from direct exposure to sunlight while still on the tree, which gives the apple its allotment of phytonutrients. The green Granny Smith is an exception to the color rule but still remains extremely high in antioxidants.
Here are a few other things I learned about apples: When choosing apple juice, choose cloudy (which indicates the presence of 4 times more phytonutrients) rather than clear. Unpeeled apples offer 50 percent more phytonutrients than peeled apples, so eat the peels (which I do). But, apples are one of the most pesticide-sprayed fruits, so choose organic (which I do). To preserve nutrients, store apples in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator rather than the countertop. And, a freshly-picked apple is healthier although I don’t plan to plant any apple trees in my backyard (as the author suggests!).
Eat Wild, When Possible
I also learned that many of the most popular fruit and vegetable varieties are not the most nutritious versions. In fact, wild varieties (which probably drove the author’s choice of the book’s title) are often healthier than domesticated versions. This is because breeders have used domestication so produce can withstand shipping, prolong storage, and reduce blemishes rather than preserving their nutrient value. The author suggests seeking out hard-to-find varieties in farmer’s markets or U-Pick orchards, whenever possible.
The Bottom Line?
I must confess I have been short-changing my diet all these years, at least in these two foods. How about you? In this new year of 2014, I resolve to make every food I eat the healthiest it can be—with Eating on the Wild Side as my guide.