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In July, farmers’ markets in mid-Atlantic states are overloaded with fresh ripe tomatoes. Ask anyone who’s eaten a store-bought tomato – they just aren’t what they used to be… It’s true, tomatoes have come a long way through selection and breeding practices — but not all their flavor has been lost – and there are efforts afoot to rescue their long lost flavor and healing capabilities!  

Through centuries of plant breeding tomatoes were transformed from a bitter, berry-sized fruit that grew on bushes in the deserts of western South America, to a popular sweet-tart fruit, that most people consider a vegetable (McGee, 2004, p. 329). Over the past 30 years, however, careful selection of specific traits sacrificed its unique flavor to transform the tomato into a more hardy plant, that grows uniformly round, resistant to disease and able to grow on vines that do not sprawl (Beckles, 2012; Robinson, 2013).

Tomatoes found in supermarkets today are not allowed to ripen on the vine. If they were sold that way, by the time they were shipped to the supermarket they would be overripe, or on the verge of rotting. The tomato industry will pick tomatoes before they are ripe, usually when they show the first hint of color (at the breaker stage). This gives the industry up to 2 weeks to get the tomatoes to wherever they will be sold before they turn red. Ripening can also be speeded up through spraying them with ethylene gas at regional warehouses. This way consumers see red tomatoes in the market, that are not fully ripe. This is why people complain that tomatoes lack flavor these days.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Because the tomato varieties most available today have less taste and nutrient content than their predecessors, agronomists are now experimenting with heirloom varieties and with breeding back in some of the chemical components of the original fruit to improve their flavor (Allen, 2008). In spite of the losses, today’s tomato still delivers a number of specific phytonutrients optimized through growing processes, selection, storage and preparation.

One interesting study compared conventional and organic production of tomatoes over ten years and demonstrated statistically higher levels of the plant nutrients quercetin and kaempferol aglycones in organically grown tomatoes. Researchers saw increased levels of these nutrients in plants grown using organic methods (Mitchell, et al., 2007).

Try heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers’ market. They will have much more flavor than store bought tomatoes, because they will have been allowed to ripen on the vine.

 

References:

Allen, A. (2008). A passion for tomatoes. Smithsonian magazine, August, 2008 Retrieved December 14, 2013 from http:// http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/passion-for-tomatoes.html
Beckles, D. M. (2012). Factors affecting the postharvest soluble solids and sugar content of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) fruit. Postharvest Biology and Technology 63(1), 129–140.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

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The most colorful apples are the ones that have been exposed to the greatest amount of sunlight and therefore contain more phytochemicals that benefit your health (Robinson, 2013). In her recent book Eating on the Wild Side Jo Robbins talks about how apple trees are trimmed so that more of the fruit is exposed to sunlight making the apples rich in color. The more color they have, the more phytonutrient value (see http://heartynutrition.net/2013/10/07/apples-a-rich-source-of-antioxidants/).

Photo by Rick Ruggles

Photo by Rick Ruggles
http://www.foundhearts.com

Choose organic or locally grown apples. The Environmental Working Group lists apples as having some of the highest levels of pesticides on them when compared to other fruits and vegetables. Organic apples are pesticide free. Many times locally grown apples are also organic, but farmers in smaller orchards and farms often cannot afford to go through the organic certification process, so they don’t have the organic label. The best thing to do is to ask the farmer how he or she harvests the apples when you see them at the farmers’ market. Also, locally grown apples are fresher and are grown in smaller orchards that use smaller amounts of harmful pesticides.

Choosing organic also helps to protect the natural habitat in which apples grow. Apples need bees and other insects for pollination – excess pesticide use can negatively effect crops, habitat and bee populations.

See the following sources for more information:

The Environmental Working Group 

The Organic Center 

Robinson, Jo (2013-06-04). Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health (p. 229). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Wood, R. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia. Penguin Group: New York., NY.

Protein-rich Breakfast #5Part of the protein-rich breakfast dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (0 g protein; $8-12/ 16 oz jar)
  • 1 egg (6 g protein; $3.29/dozen);
  • 1 cup of spinach (3 grams; $2.99/10 oz bag)

How to: Clean and chop spinach into small, fine threads and place in a bowl. Break open one egg and add it to the spinach beating it together with spinach. Heat coconut oil in frying pan, and when warm add the spinach egg mixture as well as salt and pepper to taste. Mixture is ready when egg is thoroughly cooked (dry rather than runny consistency).

NoteYou can substitute olive oil for coconut oil if you prefer. I include coconut oil here because I have found that cooking breakfast with coconut oil gives me an extra boost of energy. Myra Kornfeld (my cooking teacher last semester) also says that coconut oil’s medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil can boost the body’s metabolism because medium chain fatty acids are quickly converted to energy, rather than being stored in the body fat like other dietary fats. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which has several healing and anti-viral qualities. Coconut oil is an extremely stable oil which can be heated to high cooking temperatures without forming harmful bi-products. And it’s an ecologically sustainable oil. Coconut trees produce between 50 and 100 nuts per year. They can grow in challenging conditions like drought, poor soil, etc.; they begin yielding fruit at age six, and continue to produce fruit for about 55 years more.  Coconuts are ecologically sound, as they are able to grow in difficult environments, such as atolls, or under conditions of high salinity, drought, or poor soil. You can buy coconut oil in two varieties: virgin, which has the flavor of a coconut (great for Tai cooking), and a filtered variety which is neutral-tasting.

9 grams protein; total cost: $6.28

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.

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