Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eating on the Wild Side: Selecting the Most Nutritious Varieties of Fruits & Vegetables

Stephanie Rukowicz

Just in time for seed ordering season, some food for thought. Which varieties of fruits and vegetables offer the most nutrition? Last month, I attended the Selecting Seeds for Healthy Vegetables workshop at the Penn State Extension office. It featured discussion of Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health and an investigation into which seed vendors offer specific nutrient dense varieties. The majority of attendees were urban farmers looking to select the best varieties to grow and offer to their communities.
As a broad summary of the text, Robinson discusses how, historically, cultivated plants have been bred for maximum flavor, appearance, storage and durability, with little thought given to nutritional content. Over the past several thousand years, nutrition has been bred out of our food. Only recently have scientists started investigating bioavailability of phytonutrients (like antioxidants), sugars, and proteins.

Workshop attendees spent time researching which specific varieties noted by Robinson are currently offered in 2015 seed catalogs. High Mowing Organic Seeds included the greatest overall number of varieties listed by Robinson (see below for a catalog excerpt of High Mowing's beet varieties).
The four circled beet varieties are said to be highest in phytonutrient content
(except from page 8 of High Mowing Organic Seeds 2015 Catalog).
Robinson generalizes that the closer a variety looks or tastes to its relative found in the wild, the more nutritious it should be. Often this means that a more nutritious variety is more colorful in appearance (think purple potatoes over white) and possibly less sweet or more bitter (think Granny Smith over Golden Delicious). She recognizes that there are exceptions to the rule, noting the example of white-fleshed peaches having twice the nutrients than yellow-fleshed. The choices are not always intuitive, so she recommends shopping with a list to select the most nutritious varieties.

A short list of varieties for seed selection can be found on her site (, with a more in-depth list found in her book.

Not ordering seeds this year? Robinson also offers tips on how to select varieties for maximum nutrition when shopping at the grocery store as well. A PDF of Robinson’s Shopping Guide for optimum health can be found on her site (

To learn more about the book and the author's research, listen in on an interview she did in 2013 with NPR's Science Friday (

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