The Green Plate: Seasonal Superfoods

ColumnWhat to eat and when to eat it for better health and greater enjoyment.

Most people know enough about nutrition to realize they are better off eating Daikon than donuts, and many have heard of “superfoods,” but beyond that very basic knowledge, how much do we know about which foods are best for us, when they are in season, and how to prepare them?

Recently, while walking through the bulk and produce sections of my local Whole Foods, I noticed posters listing “nutrient dense foods” and their Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) Scores. I’d heard of nutrient density, which certainly makes sense intuitively, but I’d never heard of an ANDI score.

A quick Google search revealed that ANDI was developed by a Dr. Furman to help guide people toward more healthful eating. The scale scores foods from 1,000 points, with foods like collards earning the full 1,000 and cola and white bread coming in at one and 18 points, respectively. Good-for-you foods like sweet potatoes and walnuts score 83 and 34.

I was curious how the foods were scored because, knowing that sweet potatoes and walnuts are widely considered superfoods, why were their scores so much lower than collard greens?

Foods with the highest nutrient density have a high ratio of nutrients to calories. Because walnuts contain a lot of fat (albeit good fat), they are high in calories compared to collard greens. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them. It just means you shouldn’t eat too many of them. The natural sugars present in vitamin-rich sweet potatoes give them a relatively low score compared to collards. The lesson, as in everything, is balance. If you ate nothing but collard greens, Brussels sprouts and other top scorers, you’d waste away.

The benefits of nutrient dense superfoods are many.

Besides improving your overall health, eating nutrient dense foods can help you lose and maintain weight and regulate blood sugar. Bulky, fibrous foods will help you feel satisfied, nutrients will energize you, and steady blood sugar levels will help with cravings and mood swings.

Adding more nutrient dense foods to your diet is simple: shop the perimeter of the grocery store and buy whole foods that don’t come in packages. It’s best to buy most of your foods in the bulk and produce sections, and for greater enjoyment, eat seasonally.

Unless you’re a habitual farmers’ market shopper, it’s likely you’re not going to know what’s in season since grocery stores carry produce from all over the world all the time. For a quick refresher course or to look up a specific item, my favorite go-to resource is the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture’s (CUESA) seasonal produce charts for fruits and vegetables.

To help you eat superfoods more often, each month, The Green Plate will choose one to highlight, giving shopping as well as preparation tips for it.

This month, hail the artichoke!

With an ANDI score of 244, it comes up high on the list. Plus it’s abundant and affordable in farmers’ markets right now. For this first article in the series, we’ll head to the archives for a recipe for Baby Artichokes with Potatoes and Fresh Herbs with Lemon.

Image: Natamagat via Flickr

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.