Eating On The Wild Side – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Nutrition by James1 Comment

After reading Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health I feel a sense of vindication. When I was young I was labeled a “picky eater.” Primarily, because like a lot of kids I didn’t like to eat vegetables. It turns out my “picky” eating habits were not due to me being an overly selective eater, but because of the quality and preparation of the vegetables we were eating yielded a palate offensive taste. My parents were certainly trying to do the right thing for my health, but it turns out the veggies that were served up to me most of my youth to which I rebelled against were in fact doing next to nothing for my health. Frozen vegetables that are prepared by boiling are a the ultimate double whammy. Any nutrition that may have been in the vegetable is lost in the water, along with much of the flavor. The end result is an off tasting rubbery substance containing very few nutritional benefits. I am happy to say that I’ve since encountered fresh vegetables prepared with best practices and I am in fact not a picky eater! Although, I still don’t like certain varieties of mushrooms, and broccoli is still is off my list – but it turns out the phytonutrients in broccoli aren’t that impressive anyway. Aside from vindicating “picky eaters” this book does three primary things. First, it reveals the history of wild vegetables and fruits, and how they have evolved over time. The fruits and veggies we eat today are much different than when humans first found them growing in the wild. Humans domesticated them over thousands of years, and with that came positive and negative changes. Humans were able to make the plants bigger, sweeter, more palatable, and easier to grow. The negative side of domestication is with some varieties we went too far and have sacrificed valuable nutrients for more sugar and convenience. The second thing Jo Robinson does is inform the readers on best practices for choosing fruits and veggies, along with the best ways to prepare and store them. Finally, each chapter is summarized with takeaway points and a list of the most nutrient dense varieties you can choose whether shopping at the super market, farmer’s market, or growing at home.

What’s in the Book? 

The book opens with an introduction and brief history about where our modern vegetables and fruits came from, then leads into a two-part book – the first part covers vegetables and the second fruits.

Part One: Vegetables

1. From Wild Greens to Iceberg Lettuce: Breeding Out the Medicine
2. Alliums: All Things to All People
3. Corn on the Cob: Howe Super-sweet It Is!
4. Potatoes: From Wild to Fries
5. The Other Root Crops: Carrots, Beets, and Sweet Potatoes
6. Tomatoes: Bringing Back Their Flavor and Nutrients
7. The Incredible Crucifers: Tame Their Bitterness and Reap the Rewards
8. Legumes: Beans, Peas, and Lentils
9. Artichokes, Asparagus, and Avocados: Indulge!

Part Two: Fruits

10. Apples: From Potent Medicine to Mild-Mannered Clones
11. Blueberries and Blackberries: Extraordinarily Nutritious
12. Strawberries, Cranberries, and Raspberries: Three of Our Most Nutritious Fruits
13. Stone Fruits: Time for a Flavor Revival
14. Grapes and Raisins: From Muscadines to Thompson Seedless
15. Citrus Fruits: Beyond Vitamin C
16. Tropical Fruits: Make the Most of Eating Globally
17. Melons: Light in Flavor and Nutrition

Highlights

This book is stuffed with useful information. I’ll share a few highlights that stood out for me.

Garlic 

When you’re preparing garlic to get maximum amounts of allicin which is the compound in garlic that gives you the most benefits you should let the garlic rest for 10 minutes after slicing, mincing, or pressing it. After that you can heat it up in your favorite recipes and you will not lose any of the benefits, you’ll actually increase the benefits.

Potatoes 

Like lettuces when you choose potatoes choosing ones with the deepest and darkest color will benefit you most. In addition eat the skin as most of the nutrients are in the and near the surface of the skin. The catch however is, if you’re going to eat the skin it’s best to buy organic so you’re not mixing in pesticides with your nutrients. I love the Korean pumpkin sweet potatoes which are a dark orange. The bonus is they taste much sweeter than the white ones, but unlike the white varieties they don’t spike your blood sugar levels and actually help to keep it in check. In addition you should always eat your potatoes with some butter to help absorb the fat soluble vitamins and control insulin spikes. New thin-skinned potatoes also do not spike your blood sugar as much as darker skinned older ones. It doesn’t get much better than butter drenched sweet potatoes.

Stop Boiling Vegetables 

Boiling vegetables is the worst practice for retaining nutrients and it wreaks havoc on texture and taste. If you’re going to cook them, steaming is your best option followed by sautéing, grilling, baking and even microwaving.

Buy Frozen Fruits

Most fruit by the time it gets to you is past its prime and quickly losing its nutritional benefits. If you’re not able to go to farmer’s markets and get fresh fruit one of the best options is to buy frozen fruit. Frozen blue berries are a great option.

Eat more Beans 

Beans such as red and black and lentils have more phytonutrients than most fruits and vegetables. In addition canned beans are even more nutritious as the heating in the canning process enhances the nutritional content. They’re also rich in fiber.

Broccoli 

Once harvested broccoli loses its sugar very rapidly. Eat it within a day or two and to prepare it steam it for less than 5 minutes in order to preserve the nutrients. Boiling it or cooking in a microwave destroys a large percentage of its nutritional benefits. Raw, fresh broccoli is the best option if you’re going to consume it.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

As a person who currently grows their own greens (in a small hydroponic system) and who plans to grow on a larger scale in the future this book is a great reference. Although, with that said this is not only a book for growers. It’s for anyone who eats fruits and vegetables which will include all people who have healthy to semi-healthy diets. The majority of people who eat fruits and vegetables do it because they know the health benefits that come with it. So if it’s health benefits that are acting as the driver for consumption it follows that getting the most benefits possible from whatever you choose to eat would be the rational thing to do. This book gives you the tools to make that happen. Following health benefits people consume fruits and vegetables for the pleasure they bring from their taste. If you’ve never been a “vegetable person” it’s likely because you’ve never had a properly prepared vegetable or salad. A quality salad is one of the most enjoyable things to eat, although growing up I always thought a salad was a mound of iceberg lettuce and flavorless slimy tomato chunks drenched in some highly processed Kraft variety dressing. Thus I always went for soup over salad when we went out for dinner. But it isn’t so! Vegetables are delicious and nutritious! Fruits have always been enjoyable for most people, and there’s a lot varieties to choose from that have great flavor and benefits that aren’t loaded with sugar like the popular Cavendish banana and Golden Delicious apple which dominate fruit consumption in the U.S. In addition choosing fruits that are at their ripest opens up a whole new world of fruit enjoyment many people have not experienced. Sadly a lot of people who do their shopping in the markets have never tasted a freshly ripened peach! This book gives you the tools to know how to select the ripest fruit even if you don’t have access to farmer’s markets or grow it yourself. If you take the time to educate yourself you can open up an entire new world of fruit and vegetable enjoyment. And, from an economic standpoint it’s the most rational approach.

Here is Jo Robinson talking about her book