Eating on the Wild Side

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Sadly, there are many industrial foods today that are far from medicinal. Processed foods in particular are full of additives that are just plain toxic. Moreover, buying food that has medicinal properties may seem impossible.

Author Jo Robinson’s book, Eating on the Wild Side, is the handbook we’ve long needed to help us maximize our food choices. Among other things, Robinson’s book is a pedigree of the fruits and vegetables found in most grocery stores in America. For example, the ancestor of our modern-day potato, which Americans consume to the tune of 30 pounds a year (mostly as French fries), had many nutrients that are vacant in today’s starchy, high-glycemic root vegetable.

On the other hand, blueberries have changed very little from its wild ancestor. In fact, it was the early 1900’s before the wild blueberry plant was domesticated; today blueberries remain a nutritional powerhouse. While we’ve been hearing for years about the high antioxidant levels in blueberries, Robinson puts this information in a new light. She cites research by Tufts University first in the 1990’s and again in 2010 about blueberries and their effect on aging. In both studies, the results were surprising: not only did blueberries slow the aging process but it even reversed it, improving memory and cognition. Blueberries also reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

In an effort to make vegetables and fruit more palatable, nutrients were lost along the way. Some vegetables have been more altered than others. Corn tops the list. While most of the vegetables and fruit we buy today have been altered from their wild ancestors, they often still contain significant nutrition. This is not the case with corn. Our super-sweet varieties today contain up to 40 percent sugar. Moreover, these varieties lack important phytonutrients including a compound that can “…slow the growth of colon cancer, block inflammation, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and even reduce weight gain…”

GMO Corn fields

Additionally, Eating on the Wild Side teaches the nuances of getting the most nutrition from each plant. For example, many assume that raw vegetables provide more nutrition than cooked vegetables. Not necessarily. Robinson explains that beets and carrots are better cooked. In other words, cooking these vegetables makes their nutrients more bioavailable. In fact, canned beets provide an even higher antioxidant level. And because carrots are high in beta-carotene (a fat-soluble nutrient), coating cooked carrots with fat increases absorption. Tomatoes are another example: the most nutritional tomatoes in a supermarket are found on the canned aisle. And many of us are missing out on garlic’s antibacterial, cancer-fighting compound allicin because of the way we cook garlic.

Robinson’s book is an invaluable tool. From nutritional information to shopping and cooking tips, it’s the kind of book the health-minded person will consult over and over again. And with our disease-ridden society, this book should be required reading. As for my copy, it’s staying in the kitchen—right next to my cook books.