I eat what you throw away

This column is written by Stig Bengmark – Professor Emeritus, scientist, lecturer and writer. Read more of Stig Bengmark’s columns here.

Think next time you throw away your scraps.

Not everyone is aware that nutrients in fruits and vegetables are less evenly distributed than you’d imagine. If, for example, you study a cereal such as wheat, you can roughly divide it into the husk, meal and sprout. The husk, which is supposed to protect the grain from attack from the outside, naturally comes with plenty of fibre and antioxidants. Also the sprout, which is to be placed in the soil and eventually become a large plant, comes with plentiful amounts of nutrients. The meal, on the other hand, which doesn’t really contain any nutrients at all, is made up of only empty calories. Despite this, for decades we’ve got used to making use of just the meal, and giving much of the husk/bran to pigs so that they can keep their stomachs in order, and most of the sprouts to the minks to give them glossy, beautiful furs.

The same is true of a lot of the fruits we eat everyday. The healthy stuff is in the parts we usually don’t eat, in the seeds and the core in, for example, oranges, melons, pears, and apples, and can be successfully used in green smoothies, for example.

Don’t throw the greens away!

Another thing we often throw in the bin is the greens from root vegetables. There’s a very big difference in contents between root vegetables and their greens, and the greens have a significant advantage: lower calorie content, lower fat and sugar content and much greater content of important minerals and vitamins.

The health benefits of eating more of what grows above ground than below ground underscore that we should actually be choosing the green of the root vegetable over the root vegetable itself, or at least taking advantage of as much of the greens as possible when the opportunity arises.

You need to eat the greens quickly. Or freeze them.

However, the greens lose their elasticity very quickly, and their antioxidant content. Studies on lettuce show that the antioxidant capacity (ORAC) decreases by half just 30 minutes after the lettuce is separated from its root. Therefore, the separated tops should be eaten immediately or placed in the freezer and stored there until they’re eaten.

Frozen peas, which are extremely nutritious, are already frozen in the field, the moment they are harvested – a method that should be used for many more varieties of vegetables. Freezing overall seems to preserve both nutritional value and antioxidant capacity relatively well (though with a few exceptions). In other words, busy parents can use frozen vegetables of various kinds in their smoothies, which are always close at hand and usually cheaper than fresh ones.

We’re living in exciting times.

Maybe the day will come when we’ll be freezing the sugar beet greens in the fields and selling them as human food, while the beet will be ‘cow food’ instead. Perhaps the day will also come when all the beans and seeds will no longer be dried before becoming food for humans, but will be frozen in the fields before being sent to the grocery stores. We’re living in exciting times!



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