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Breeding out the goodness



December 15, 2013

Corncobs Photo by User Asestos

Have we bred all the goodness out of our food? And bad stuff in? Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side talks on Science Friday about what we’ve done to our fruit and vegetables over the past 1000 years.

We’ve made our fruit and vegies easy to produce, use and prepare but often sacrificed much of their goodness. An example is corn, which Jo says today is a big, robust ear compared to its early 5-12 kernel ancestors. But added to that is a loss of protein – from 20% down to 2-4%, and a huge increase in sugar, from 2% to a whopping 40%. We might value them sweet (being pre-programmed to avoid bitter foods) but we know that it’s not the sort of nutrition we need.


And then there’s carrots, originally antoxidant-rich purple but bred into an orange strain about 400 years ago to honour the Dutch House of Orange. Soon the world’s carrots became a pretty orange, but with one sixteenth the antoxidants.

It turns out that many of the important phytonutrients we need are slightly bitter, so our preference for sweet, juicy fruit and vegetables has led to that being bred from most modern hybrids.

We can still pick up one important phytonutrient, anthocyanin, by eating red, purple and blue fruit and vegetables. Or eat an artichoke. Turns out they’re one of the most anti-oxidant rich vegetables in the store.

Listen to the full interview on Science Friday


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