Produce that packs a POW – vibrant health awaits you

I just bought some purple potatoes at the market downtown on Saturday. I also scoured the market and found the first picking of deep red vibrant beets, some locally grown shallots and Chesnok red garlic. I saw purple heirloom tomatoes and blackberries. I guess purple is my new favorite vegetable color and “anthocyanin” is my new favorite buzz word. My family is beginning to wonder about me. You’ll understand in a minute.

The data continues to pour in – vegetables and fruits have disease-fighting plant compounds (phytochemicals) that can help keep you well. The word “superfood” may be overused, but plants containing high concentrations of phytochemicals and antioxidants help fight off infection, lower inflammation and reduce your risk of cancer, hypertension and heart disease, just to name a few. Many, but not all, of the most potent, health-preserving phytochemicals in vegetables and fruits are loaded with color. For example, berries and red cabbage contain a plant compound called anthocyanin. Some of the most potent bionutrients in vegetables and fruits, though, have stronger tastes (even bitter, sour or astringent), but the health payoff is huge, and eventually you get hooked.  

Now researchers are discovering that we need to return to choosing produce that resembles our native plants. Over the years, farmers bred more palatable fruits and vegetables, but unbeknownst to them, they stripped away some of the powerful nutrients that help keep us well.

While it’s good to eat more fruits and vegetables, we need guidance as to which fruits and vegetables to eat. A new book, “Eating on the Wild Side,” is flying off the shelf. If you are into eating real and whole foods, you should read this book. You’ll read the science behind the life-preserving benefits of produce and get the road map to choose the most healthful varieties of fruits and vegetables that most closely resemble wild plants. You’ll also learn about storage and preparation methods to preserve the bionutrients. 

Let me ask you – what’s in your salad bowl? Consider:

  • Arugula – this more intensely flavored green is loaded with glucosinolates offering anti-cancer properties. Plus, it comes with a full complement of antioxidants over and above most green lettuces. 
  • Spinach – pack it into your eating wherever you can. Among other nutrients, spinach is rich in lutein, a bionutrient that may reduce inflammation and protect the eyes. 
  • Use red or dark green loose-leaf lettuce – these milder tasting greens are loaded with antioxidant and phytochemical power.
  • Cabbage and onion – go red on both these vegetables and tell your family to gobble up all of the antioxidants and health preserving anthocyanins. 
  • Put Radicchio, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and raw broccoli or cauliflower on your salad. These heavy hitters contain literally hundreds of plant compounds that improve your health in major ways. 
  • Garlic in your salad dressing gives you antibacterial, anticlotting, antiviral properties and more. 
  • When you mix your salad, know that you need fat (from oil or nuts) to make those compounds more available. Think olive oil specifically – a 2012 Purdue University study says it does the best job. 

If you are a supertaster and the vegetables are too bitter – throw milder deep greens into your salad and use a highly-flavored homemade salad dressing. I’ve even included a recipe:

Basic vinigarette salad dressing: 

6 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 T. rice vinegar

2 T. shallots, minced 

¼ t. pepper

2 tsp. grated ginger

½ tsp. Dijon mustard 

1 tsp. salt 

Directions: Blend and enjoy!

I tend to go fanatic about this. I think every street corner should have a banner touting fruit and vegetable consumption. After all, it is Healthy Habit No. 2 from the Parkview LiVe campaign and proven in research to keep people healthier. But seriously, some doctors are now prescribing a quota of life-preserving fruits and vegetables for their patients. What are you waiting for? Grab that bag and jump in the car to head to your local market. The best eating season of the year is happening now!  Check out Purdue Extension’s Market Guide, which lists most farmers markets in and around our region.

Onward and upward to vibrant health!


Related reading:

The secret weight-loss weapon: more fruits and veggies in your diet

Hug your local farmer



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