Making Nutrient-Rich Produce Choices

As spring approaches, many of us are starting to think about which varieties of veggies to plant in our gardens, or look for at the farmer's market. 

Below is a guide to choosing the most nutrient-rich varieties of commonly available fruits and vegetables, compiled by PCC and based on the book, "Eating on the Wild Side," by Jo Robinson. Here is what they suggest looking for:

  • In the lettuce section, look for arugula, which is very similar to its wild ancestor. Arugula is rich in cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates and higher in antioxidants than many green lettuces.

  • Another leaf vegetable, red-purple radicchio, has four times the antioxidants of romaine lettuce.The colorful purple, blue and red corn that Native Americans favored is high in anthocyanins. These flavonoids have the potential to fight cancer, calm inflammation, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, protect the aging brain, and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

  • Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a "superfood."

  • Herbs are also nutritional powerhouses. Experiment with using large quantities of mild-tasting fresh herbs. Add handfuls of parsley, cilantro or basil to salads, or mix them into ground grass-fed beef or lamb for more nutritious burgers.

  • Scallions, or green onions, resemble wild onions and are just as good for us. They have more than five times more phytonutrients than many common onions. The green tops of scallions are more nutritious than the white bulbs, so use the entire plant.

  • Corn with kernels that have a deep yellow color has nearly 60 times more beta-carotene than white corn. Beta-carotene is valuable because it helps vision and the immune system. Supersweet corn was derived from spontaneous mutations and selected for its high sugar content.

  • White-fleshed peaches and nectarines contain twice as many nutrients as yellow-fleshed varieties. The advice to avoid white food isn't always a rule!

  • Choose interesting potatoes. French Fingerlings, with red skin and creamy flesh, have 50 times more antioxidants than the white, Kennebec potato. A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common Russet potatoes.

  • Granny Smith apples offer three times the nutrients of a Golden Delicious.

  • Choose purple. Purple carrots provide almost 20 times more phytonutrients than orange carrots and are sweeter than orange carrots. Purple cauliflower is rich in anthocyanins and glucosinolates. Purple tomatoes also are packed with antioxidants.