Variety is the Spice of Life

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You may have heard the expression "eat the rainbow."  It does not mean this.....

Now that is a beautiful cake and in fact I have a whole file of rainbow cakes in my Pinterest. (One day I will actually make one!). But the point of eating the rainbow is meant to help you visualize the wide variety of fruits and vegetables you should eat.  The compounds that give fruits and vegetables their different colors are phytochemicals that help the body in different ways.  It is not even known what some of them do, but for me that is not even important.  The American way is to try to figure out what makes a food "healthy" and then to isolate it and put it into an easy to take, but expensive pill. Remember when red wine was found to be good for cardiac health?  This was ultimately attributed to something called resveratrol.  Soon the supplement aisle was full of resveratrol supplements.  Really, all you need to know is that fruits and vegetables of all different colors are what you should eat.  No need to know what specific compound makes them good, just that they are.  Mother Nature will take care of you.  If you want more information about what is in the different colored produce, you can read about it here. 

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If you eat what is in season you will naturally get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  There are red apples in Fall, beets in winter, strawberries and tomatoes  in Summer.  Oranges in winter and spring, peaches and apricots in Summer. Since many vegetables and fruits are shipped from around the world, you can get almost anything you want anytime of year.  The quality and nutritional content however suffer with shipping.  It is truly best in terms of flavor, nutrition and health to eat what is in season in your region.  There is  nothing more delicious than a big juicy peach in July or a crisp tart apple in October. 

There are a core group of vegetables that seem to be available year round, and are pretty good, even though their seasonal couterpart is much better.  Onions.  Celery. Potatoes.  Carrots.  Lettuce.  I think it is a good plan to eat as much seasonal produce as you can, and then supplement with good quality fresh or frozen stables.  I try not to buy anything from half way around the world. I recently really wanted but passed on snap peas when I saw they came from Guatamala.  

If you don't pay a little bit of attention, you can eat the same 10 things over and over and over.  Common ones are: lettuce. corn. potatoes. tomatoes. apples. grapes. cucumbers. oranges. green beans. and the ever present and mostly terrible, out of season cantalope.  In November, I decided to do a little challenge and write down all the different fruits, vegetables and legumes I ate.  It was fun.  It made me more aware of what I was eating and I made an effort to eat some different things.  I highly recommend the exercise.  You can do it for a week or wait and do it for the whole month of February.  Maybe it will help counteract some of that Valentine's chocolate that is sure to come your way.  

Here is what I ate in November, in no particular order. 

Fruits: apples, pears, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, orange, limes, lemon, dates, cherries (some of these were frozen)

Greens: spinach, beet greens, broccoli greens, kale, collards, mustard greens,  Brussel sprouts, Savoy cabbage, Napa cabbage, cilantro, parsley, swiss chard

Other vegetables: onion, red onion, garlic, butternut squash, kabocha squash, carrots, sweet potato, broccoli, pumpkin, avocado, lettuce, potato, beets, leeks, shitake mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, radicchio, green beans, red pepper, yellow peper, ginger, green onions, tomato, celery, cauliflower, snow peas, turnip, zucchini, kombu

Legumes: pinto beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas, black beans

Overall, I was pretty pleased with myself.  The next layer of evaluation would be one level deeper.  What different varieties within each food?  As a society we have strayed from variety in our food, not just in terms that I described but within each type of food.  For example there are hundreds of types of potatoes.  We mostly eat Russets.  Yukon Golds have become common but I remember when they were "new" and all the rage.  The same with apples.  Everyone eats Red Delicious which is one of the most bitter and tasteless varieties. They are easy to grow,  store and ship so that is what is widely available and what everyone eats.  Heirloom varieties are making a come back.  It keeps the earth rich and supports the ecosystem when we don't support a monoculture in food.  Maybe my next challenge will be to eat more variety within each type.  I'd love to have a group challenge in February.  Anyone in to track your fruits and veggies and we'll share on Facebook?  I will follow up at the end of the month and see who's in!  In the meantime, eat some variety!