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The bittersweet truth about fruits & vegetables.

A healthy outside

How many times have you heard that if something tastes good than it must not be good for you? While this is a gross generalization, it is a fact that many Americans avoid eating bitter-tasting vegetables and fruits, which are particularly high in natural disease-preventing phytonutrients.

Phytonutrients are naturally occurring substances found in whole foods that may be more important to good nutrition than vitamins. In general, the more bitter the taste, the richer the food is in these phytonutrients.

For plants, these bitter -tasting substances serve as natural insect repellents and pesticides. Some are even toxic to rats, including some compounds in cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Generally, higher amounts of bitter-tasting phytonutrients are found in sprouts and seedlings than in the mature plant. This provides plants with another type of natural protection from being eaten at an early stage of life before the chance of reproduction.

It is now clear that phytonutrients can help prevent and treat cancer and other diseases. Their actions halt the production of cancer-causing agents in the body, blocking activation of these chemicals, or suppressing the spread of cancer cells that already exist. The first step is eating your vegetables and fruits. The produce items researchers think are most capable of preventing cancer and other diseases, including heart disease, are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, citrus fruit (not the juice), grapes, red wine, green tea, and others. The more bitter, the better. Add a small amount of butter, extra virgin olive oil, or the appropriate sauce of spice, if it enables you to eat more of these items.

Cancer researchers propose that heightened sense of bitterness might be a healthy feature, allowing people to select foods with the highest phytonutrient content. This view contrasts with the food industry’s practice of measuring the content of these bitter phytonutrients merely as a way of developing new non-bitter, and non-phytonutrient, strains. So while some nutrition scientists propose enhancing phytonutrients in foods for better health, the standard industry practice has been to remove them for better taste. Indeed, the lower amount of bitter compounds in the modern diet reflects the “achievement” of the food industry.

You can get more phytonutrients in your diet by eating foods that have a natural bitter taste. Zucchini and other squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, melon, citrus, and many other vegetables and fruits, along with almonds and many types of beans, contain bitter-tasting health promoting and disease-preventing natural phytonutrients.

Nutritional supplements may contain phytonutrients too. There are only a few whole food phytonutrient manufacturers in the world. Most vitamin and mineral manufacturers fail to capture the phytonutrients due to synthetic, heating and filtration processes.

While many foods have not yet been altered, most consumers still usually discard their healthiest parts. It has been said that Americans have the healthiest garbage in the world. We are taught to dispose of the parts of food that are best for us while eating the lower quality parts.  In oranges, lemons and grapefruit most people toss the nutrient-rich skins and whites. Many people throw out the white parts inside peppers and toss aside the parsley used as a garnish. Really there is no good reason not to eat these things with the exception being caution with skins if pesticides were used in the growing process.

The general dislike of phytonutrient-rich foods is due to their bitter tastes of varying degrees. But in reality, bitter is better. So if you are looking to improve your health through better nutrition, seek out the less-sweet fruits and vegetables.

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