One of my favorite things about being a farmers’ market manager is talking with the farmers and food entrepreneurs! Recently, I was chatting with Jimmy Myers from Front 9 Farm and we were discussing how food can be used as medicine for the prevention/repair of certain diseases and chronic health conditions and he recommended that I read the book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.

In Eating on the Wild Side, Robinson talks about the benefits of phytonutrients, why there are less today then in our ancestor’s time, what to look for in fruits and vegetables as well as how to get the most out of them. So what are phytonutrients? In short, phytonutrients are chemicals produced by plants as a defense mechanism to disease, insects, damaging UV light, inclement weather and animals. These plant-produced chemicals provide humans with significant health benefits when consumed as a part of our daily diet. From the very beginning of Robinson’s book, I was hooked and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. This book is filled with so many helpful tips. Robinson breaks it down veggie by veggie and tells you how to shop for phytonutrient-dense produce as well as cooking and storage tips. Robinson also gives a brief history lesson on each food and how it has evolved since humans first began consuming it.

Since I haven’t stopped talking about it, I thought I would share it with you too. I mean, why stop now? Some of my favorite tips from her book are below but I’m only going to share a little because I genuinely want everyone to read it for themselves.

  • Color: As I mentioned above, Robinson breaks it down veggie by veggie and tells you what to look for but the overarching theme was to look for other varieties that are naturally dark purple or red. Purple pigment in veggies and fruit come from anthocyanins; antioxidants that are found naturally in food and may help protect your heart health and boost your cancer defense.
  • Don’t boil your veggies! Robinson says that boiling is the most common cooking method of most veggies in the US. By boiling your veggies, you’re losing all of those beneficial nutrients in the water! She recommends steaming, roasting or sautéing to maximize their full potential.
  • When cooking garlic, chop or slice 10 minutes before you add it to the heat. Heating garlic immediately after chopping destroys the beneficial heat-sensitive enzyme, alliinase. Waiting just ten minutes will retain all of its cancer-fighting abilities!
  • Peels can be the most nutritious part of a vegetable such as with carrots or potatoes. When you peel potatoes for example, you lose 50% of the total antioxidants in the potato. In order to get the most out of your spud, keep the peel on. Food for thought: Conventional potatoes are sprayed with fungicides, insecticides and sprout inhibitors. Some of these chemicals are highly soluble and penetrate beneath the skin of the potato. Scrubbing will remove only 25%, peeling potatoes only gets rid of up to 70%.
  • Time is of the essence! When shopping for your veggies, try and consume them as close to when they were harvested. Veggies from a farmers’ market will have been harvested more recently than compared to those from a grocery store. In the case of certain veggies like asparagus and broccoli, they lose not only their flavor the longer they sit but their nutritional value as well. In order to preserve all of their nutrients, broccoli is best when consumed within 2-3 days of being harvested and asparagus within 1-2 days. This is not the case for all veggies; potatoes can be stored for quite a while without losing their nutritional value.

While I could go on for days, I’ll leave you with that. My hope is that you too find yourself randomly telling strangers little tidbits of wisdom for no reason other than for your excitement of food. Healthy eating and happy reading to you all!

-Alicia Hall