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June 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Six tips for choosing healthier foods

Photo of Jo Robinson by Frances Robinson

Photo of Jo Robinson by Frances Robinson

Since talking with Vashon Island author Jo Robinson about her research into healthy food, I’ve found myself making different choices at the grocery store when shopping for dinner. Robinson’s book, “Eating on the Wild Side,” distills the scientific research on nutritious produce and grains — noting, for instance, that fresh asparagus contains surprisingly high levels of antioxidants, or describing how potential cancer-fighting compounds in garlic are destroyed if it’s heated right after it’s chopped.

Some of the findings reported in the book seem well-established, some sound more preliminary. (I’m always wary of putting too much faith into a single scientific study, even one published in a peer-reviewed journal — how many times have we seen early results get overturned by later, more comprehensive research?) But Robinson’s research into modern agriculture encompassed thousands of reports and years of study. Even if a few of the conclusions should change over time, I figure I can’t go too wrong given that her choices all involve eating fresh, unprocessed ingredients. Here are some of the choices I’ve been making based on the hundreds of such tidbits in her book:

1 Peas, please:

Use yellow peas instead of green peas when making pea soup. Robinson says they’re far higher in antioxidants.

2 Currant events:

Most raisins are made from the least nutritious variety of grapes. Nibble on dried currants instead.

3 Best broccoli bets:

Broccoli loses a lot of its benefits even a week after it’s picked, and our modern food distribution system means it’s hard to buy it fresh. Look for whole heads, rather than trimmed florets, choose dark green crowns with tightly closed buds and firm stems, and eat it raw for the best benefits. If you can shop at a farmers market, you’ll likely get fresher choices and can even look for extra-nutritious varieties like Cavolo.

4 Let(tuce)'er rip!

Tear up your lettuce before storing it in the fridge. (“The living plant responds to the insult as if it were being gnawed by an insect or eaten by an animal: it produces a burst of phytonutrient to fend off the intruders,” Robinson wrote.) Caveat: That also means they’ll spoil faster, so eat them within a day or two.

5 Beans: Cooked or canned?

When simmering dried beans, they’ll lose up to 70 percent of their antioxidants to the cooking water. If you’re not using the water as part of the recipe, Robinson recommends letting the beans soak in the cooking liquid for an extra hour after they’re cooked to reabsorb nutrients. Pressure cooking is better — and canned beans, surprisingly, are even higher in antioxidants. (There goes some of my guilt at buying canned beans over the much cheaper route of cooking my own.)

6 Plugging leeks:

The best parts of the leek, health-wise, are the parts most people discard — the green part of the stalk and the leaves. To use the green parts in a stir-fry, she advises thinly slicing them and sauteing them a few extra minutes before adding the more tender whites.

Comments | More in List | Topics: antioxidants, Eating on the Wild Side, Jo Robinson

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