Dandelion Salad

June 24, 2013

Dandelions in Your Salad 

 Reference:  NYT Sunday Edition 

 Do you eat salad to get good nutrition?  Sure you do.  You get romaine lettuce instead of that “worthless” iceberg lettuce.   You got an almost 30% boost in antioxidants by doing that.  If you had spinach as your salad, well, your boost was almost 500% over iceberg lettuce.  Those both sound very impressive. 

 Well, do you ever eat dandelions?  Hmmm.  Maybe your should.  Now that your yard is coming to its wonderful maturity and your dandelions are getting to the peak, it’s a great time to go into hunter-gatherer mode and see what your great, great-grandparents had for lunch when the going got tough.  When you eat dandelions, the concentration of phyto-antioxidants is almost 40 fold over that of simple romaine lettuce, 160 times iceberg lettuce.   

 The principle here is a very simple but also a very profound one.  In the move to industrial farming, we have focused on the production of quantity and volume.  We have also focused on the visual presentation.  We like our apples to be big and shiny with no blemishes.  We have pushed our soils to produce as much as can be obtained from every acre with the introduction of high concentrations of fertilizers, combined with pesticides to kill any competition.  We look at the bushels per acre that a farmer produces and consider that to be the measure of quality.  Our corn sells by the bushel or the ton.   The phytonutrients, those essential components of food that provide us with anti-inflammatory effects fall off the radar screen.  

Our modern food supply has lost those key ingredients in the rush to “manage” the calories per acre, the shine on the apple, the content of sweet taste. Now the lights are being turned on.  The micronutrient content in our food turns out to be incredibly important.  The minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients or antioxidants are also part and parcel of what constitutes quality.  It’s almost as though we have been making as many computers as we could, but didn’t bother to put in anything but a 4 meg hard drive.  (I think that’s what my original first computer had, in 1981)  

Our food is more than quantity, size, and beauty.  The amount of anti-oxidants in the food, the amount of minerals, the balance of vitamins, the quantity of omega fats are all variables that are not easily measured, but easily glossed over, and are missed only slowly over a long time. Our personal nutrition falls off with devastating consequences.  We are missing the means to measure those direct deficits, and their lack takes years to play out.  The only clear picture we have is the epidemiological studies that show better health measures in different populations based on varying consumption, and those are pretty circumstantial.  But the day is coming. 

WWW. What will work for me?  I read this article with deep fascination.  I’m determined to buy more dark and colorful vegetables.  I tried heirloom tomatoes last year and loved the extra flavor.  We roasted purple Peruvian potatoes on the grill and they were delicious.  I bought local, just-picked strawberries yesterday and they were unbelievably sweeter than the grocery store version.  And then I tried some dandelion leaves.  Well, not that bad.  Need a good olive oil dressing, but edible. And without the spray, my yard certainly has a banquet waiting.  Come over, I’ll share.   

 Pop Quiz 

 1.  Do you know what the functions of phytonutrients are?                      Answer:  They are best described as the plants "pest control". They are often brightly colored and have chemical effects that slow down the predation of pests on plants.  We have evolved eating them, but our bodies have a slightly different response - with us they are helpful. 

 2.  The phytonutrient content of food is easily measured.  T or F                    Answer:  False.  We are still figuring out how to do this. 

 3.  Our beautiful, big Gala apples are much more nutritious for you than crab apples?  T or F       Answer:   False.   They may have more calories but dramatically fewer phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins. 

 4.  You plan to try a dandelion salad this weekend, right?                        Answer:   True!  (Rinse it off, find leaves that are young and grow in an area that doesn't get sprayed.)

The column was written by Dr John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.