As a cook and baker, I turn to food to lift my spirits. My mood plummeted along with the temperature. Last week’s bubbling, crispy-edged pan of baked macaroni and cheese was a perfect pick-me-up. As as was the pile of expertly fried chicken from G.G.’s Chicken and Waffles. As delicious as those meals were, they were-are- familiar. Unfortunately, the same-thing-different-day would not beat back these winter blues. I decided to make recipes with ingredients that (a) I do not eat often, (b) are accessible, and (c) do not center around animal protein. Fruits and vegetables were going to be the keys to success, but how do I avoid eating the same baby spinach six ways?
The simplest answer is to “eat the rainbow”. In other words, incorporate a variety of color into my diet. The American Heart Association breaks the rainbow into five color groups: blue and purple, red and pink, orange and yellow, white, and green. Each color is indicative of a certain phytonutrients- clever Mother Nature – with a range of health benefits linked to decreasing the risks of heart disease, chronic disease, preventable illnesses and cancers.
According to a 2019 Harvard Medical School blog post, the naturally occurring phytonutrients give fruits and vegetables (as well as whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) their distinct colors, tastes and smells. These nutrients are in all edible parts of the produce, but they are concentrated in the skins and peels. “Look at a sweet potato.” Says Emily Ring, Registered Dietician Nutritionist and Media Spokesperson for the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “[It] has deep rich color. Having that deep rich color [throughout] tells it has more phytonutrients throughout the whole vegetable.” A cucumber, by comparison, has a higher concentration of phytonutrients in its green peel than its green tinted white flesh.
If these cancer fighting phytonutrients are concentrated in a vegetable peels, then I should probably eat the peel, right? If so, does that mean I have to buy organic produce? I still struggle with knowing what produce should be organic, and I have gone over my grocery budget (or gone without) all in the name of “safety”.
Ms. Ring did not express a preference for organic versus inorganic produce, but she acknowledged persistent misinformation about farming practices. “A common misconception is that organic does not use pesticides. There are pesticides used in conventional and organic farming. There is also the misconception that plants are doused in pesticides and herbicides, and that is not the case.” She referred me to an online tool she uses, safefruitsandveggies.com, as a credible fact finding and fact checking resource.
The priority, according to Ms. Ring is simple: eat your fruits and vegetables. Five servings a day of total combined fruits and vegetable to be exact. Fresh, frozen, and -yes- even canned are all fine. The next step is to make sure you get a range of nutrients and minerals; eat the rainbow. Lastly, don’t remove the fun from food. If you are fortunate to be food secure and have a healthy relationship with food, eating can be a great source joy.