Written by Lisa Dreher, MS, RDN, LDN
Eating on the Wild Side

Eating on the Wild Side

Eating close to nature is a surefire way to improve your health. It’s what our ancestors did, and it was the only way to survive at one point in time. Eating this way in modern times, through whole-foods in their least processed form, is what’s most natural to our bodies, providing nutritional information that can be understood and used to promote optimal health.

Unfortunately, we’ve been led away from a wild diet, as the industrialization of the food system continues to overproduce and overprocess, coming up with one new advancement after another to makes food-like products that are more convenient and less nutritious.

We have taken fruits and vegetables as they were found in the wild and modified them to fit our desire for more sweet and less bitter tastes. In other words, we make them higher in sugar and lower in nutrients. Wild blueberries are a prime example of this. When you get a container of conventionally grown blueberries, you may be getting bigger and juicier berries, but wild blueberries contain higher concentrations of phytonutrients/antioxidants compared to conventional.

Conventional blueberries will also contain chemicals such as pesticides to keep bugs from eating the fruit. These are health obstacles our ancestors were never up against, but by being aware of our food choices we can do our best to limit exposure to toxins and increase the nutrient density of our diet, to get back to the wilder side of eating.

Here are the top 5 reasons to choose wild foods when you can:

    1. They don’t contain herbicides/pesticides. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, they can act as endocrine disruptors, disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, and more. They also damage the surrounding ecosystem, causing drastic environmental imbalances. It’s obviously better to choose fruits and vegetables free from toxins and grown in a way that support the environment.
    2. Some stress is a good thing. When a plant doesn’t have herbicides/pesticides, it is forced to weather the stress of the environment and create its own natural chemicals—phytonutrients—that are protective against insects and other threats. These are passed along to you when you consume these foods, a clear sign that strong-willed wild foods provide stronger nutrients for your body.
    3. More complex flavor. A more stressful, challenging growing environment also creates a more complex flavor profile. Eating wild foods provides your palate with a deep variety of flavors not found in conventionally grown or processed foods. It’s nature at its finest.
    4. Less sugar. Not only have foods been manufactured to contain more sugar (loads more than anything found in nature), but they’ve also been bred for a higher level of sweetness. Our taste buds have become so hijacked by the hyperpalatable wave of sugar-laden foods that a naturally sweet item, like a tomato, is just not considered sweet enough. And so, humans used horticulture to the advantage of taste and created types of produce that are higher in sugar by breeding specific varieties of plants together. Eating foods in their wild form means getting a purer taste without the manipulation of excess sweetness.
    5. Bitter is better for you, and your gut! We have lost our taste for bitter as we search for more sweet and salty foods. This may be one reason so many of us are experiencing gut imbalances. Bitter foods help to stimulate digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid that is needed to break down and absorb our food, and it helps to stimulate peristalsis and the liver. Wild foods tend to contain more bitter compounds that can be very supportive of digestion and overall health. Try eating more dandelion greens, radicchio, Brussels sprouts, and citrus fruits to get extra bitter foods in your diet.

It may not always be easy to find the variety of foods you enjoy in the wild, but when you can it’s a really fun and healthy way to elevate your diet and palate to a new level. When wild is not an option, look for organic, non-GMO produce to be sure you’re getting clean food that’s free from toxins. Additionally, it’s always a helpful practice to eat the rainbow—seek out naturally colorful fruits and veggies with deep colors for a higher concentration of antioxidants and nutrients. Eating vibrant foods leads to a vibrant body!

Here are some of my favorite resources for learning about wild foods:

And if you’re looking for some delicious wild recipes, blueberries are a great place to start:

Here’s to getting in touch with your wild side and eating for better health, enjoy!

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