How to Seek Out Produce with More Nutrients
I just finished reading 'Eating on the Wild Side' by Jo Robinson. In this book, Jo discusses how modern day fruits and vegetables are considerably less nutritious than their wild ancestors. She offers tips on how to seek out fruits and vegetables (whether growing your own, frequenting a farmer's market or simply shopping in your standard grocery store) with the most phytonutrients. I've summarized a few of her tips here below.
One easy way to identify the produce with higher phytonutrient and antioxidant content is to look at the color. Deep reds, vibrant purples, vivid greens, bright oranges, and even some stark whites are great indications that loads of nutrients are present inside! Which color is most valuable? Purple, blue and red take the lead, hands down! Green is #2!
I'm trying to upgrade some non-purple foods in my life. For example, buying purple carrots over orange and swapping kidney beans and black beans for chickpeas. These simple switches can increase your phytonutrient intake by leaps and bounds!
Bigger is not always better. Jo also touches on size of foods. She mentions that the wild ancestors of the produce we eat today were much smaller! Almost all types of produce have evolved to get bigger, sweeter, and as a result less nutrient dense. The bigger fruit is the least nutritious because of the high water content that dilutes these nutrients - think melons. Smaller fruits and veggies: berries, cherries, grapes, etc. pack more nutrients!
Consumers today love to pick out the giant beefsteak tomatoes with perfect skin and uniform red color, but reality is that most produce does not naturally grow this way. 'Heirloom' or 'wild' varieties offer more nutrients than the mass produced (& perfected) alternatives. Wild blueberries are one incredible example! (These are like gold mines for your health!)
Wild produce may offer more nutrition than 'perfect' produce and often it is much cheaper because it is picked over by the masses. Check out the Imperfect Produce movement here.
At the end of the day, more produce is better than no produce. Eat as much fruits and vegetables as you can. Eat a variety! Don't stress out by trying to follow these tips!
On the whole, I'd say our problem isn't that we are eating fruits and vegetables that now happen to be grown with lower nutrient content.... our problem, today, is that we aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables. More people are eating fast food, processed snacks, candy and soda than products grown from the ground.
So eat your produce! Add veggies and fruits to every meal. And eat the rainbow! And if you want to make a simple swap to increase your phytonutrient content, now you know how. But don't stress!