Posts tagged wild berries

Should We Avoid Hybridized Fruits and Vegetables by Frederic Patenaude

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Should We Avoid Hybridized Fruits and Vegetables by Frederic Patenaude

I recently received the following question from a reader:

“How do I buy fruits and vegetables that are closest to the way our ancestors ate them? I don’t want to be eating these hybridized apples and giant unnatural strawberries, etc. How do I go back to finding original types of fruits before they were altered? How and what should I be shopping for? I trust my instincts, but my instincts tend to push me away from the extremely sweet, weird-tasting new fruits. What should I shop for and where should I be buying? I live in Illinois.”

This is an interesting question, and my answer may surprise you.

First, my follow-up question is: “Why would you want to eat foods close to the foods your ancestors ate?”

It’s probably because you’ve been told that those foods are somehow better, healthier, and more nutritious. They contained less sugar, more fiber, and perhaps more antiox idants.

You probably also have bought the common myth that hybridized foods are bad for health.

But let’s put things into perspective.

Our ancestors ate foods that they could find in their environment, and over the course of thousands upon thousands of generations, they altered these plants by selecting the ones that they preferred.

Our ancestors always preferred foods containing more calories (natural sugar), a manageable amount of fiber, and fewer natural toxins.
The plants we cultivate today are the most nutritious and digestible foods that humans ever had access to.

Trying to go back to wild foods entirely would not only be a mistake, but it would also be counterproductive. While it’s true that some wild plants are nutritious and offer some health benefits, designing a diet around wild plants would be extremely ill advised.

If you tried to live on wild fruits, such as the ones that chimpanzees live on, you would be come sick and eventually die. That’s because humans are not adapted to live on wild plants. We are genetically adapted to foods with more available calories, fewer tannins and fewer natural toxins.

Richard Wrangham, from Harvard University, writes:

“Evolutionary adaptation to cooking might likewise explain why humans seem less prepared to tolerate toxins than do other apes. In my experience of sampling many wild foods eaten by primates, items eaten by chimpanzees in the wild taste better than foods eaten by monkeys. Even so, some of the fruits, seeds, and leaves that chimpanzees select taste so foul that I can barely swallow them. The tastes are strong and rich, excellent indicators of the presence of non-nutritional compounds, many of which are likely to be toxic to humans—but presumably much less so to chimpanzees. Consider the plum-size fruit of Warburgia Ugandensis, a tree famous for its medicinal bark. Warburgia fruits contain a spicy compound reminiscent of a mustard oil. The hot taste renders even a single fruit impossibly unpleasant for humans to ingest. But chimpanzees can eat a pile of these fruits and then look eagerly for more. Many other fruits in the chimpanzee diet are almost equally unpleasant to the human palate. Astringency, the drying sensation produced by tannins and a few other compounds, is common in fruits eaten by chimpanzees.

(…) The shifts in food preference between chimpanzees and humans suggest that our species has a reduced physiological tolerance for foods high in toxins or tannins. Since cooking predictably destroys many toxins, we may have evolved a relatively sensitive palate.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in Costa Rica, and I’ve had the chance to look at what monkeys eat in the wild. The monkeys in Costa Rica are not like great apes, but fruit constitutes most of the diet of some of these monkeys.

What always puzzled me is that whenever I saw the fruits these monkeys ate, and by accident some of it was dropped on the ground, it always looked far from edible to me.

Whenever I tried to eat some of these fruits, I found them to be repulsive. I could not even swallow one bite.

Humans have always had very good reasons to domesticate plants. The wild versions of most domesticated plants are either inedible, low in caloric value, or toxic.

If you attempted to live on wild plants, you would not thrive for very long. Almost every advocate of a “wild diet” still gets most of their calories from domesticated plants (and often animal products).

In the case of strawberries that are the size of small children, it’s true that sometimes the tastes of the public have pushed industry to create even bigger and tastier versions of common fruits. You may prefer the taste of smaller or even wild strawberries, but there’s absolutely nothing indicating that there’s anything wrong, health-wise, with big strawberries, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with a lot of pesticides.

Similarly, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid modern varieties of apples.

The problem with industry is not hybridization. The problem is that the marketplace has forgotten about older varieties of some plants, like apples or tomatoes.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of apples and tomatoes, but only a few are available commercially. However, every single one of those varieties is still domesticated and “hybridized.” They’re just less desirable for commercial reasons, either because the fruits don’t keep as long, or some other rationale like this.

Lately, there’s been a resurgence of interest for Heirloom tomatoes. Those varieties of tomatoes taste a lot better, although sometimes look “weird.” They’re just older varieties of tomatoes but are certainly not anything like the wild versions. They are still domesticated plants.
Seeking to eat what our ancestors ate isn’t practical or beneficial.

First of all, most of the plants they ate no longer exist. Over the course of evolution, they’ve selected the plants that best suited their needs. The initial wild varieties of those plants may still exist somewhere in nature, but you’d be shocked at how inedible those are!

A few exceptions come to mind: wild berries are excellent. But that may be because people, throughout history, have always picked wild berries, and “selected” the best-tasting varieties.

If you want to be healthy and stay healthy, eat foods available at health food stores, farmers markets, and supermarkets. There’s nothing wrong with the organic produce sold in those places. If you have a garden, you could try planting Heirloom varieties of some vegetables, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that those foods have anything to do with what our ancestors ate, tens of thousands of years ago.
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