To Your Health

Did you know that wild foods have more nutrients than domesticated plants or animals?

Q. I can see how wild salmon would have more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than farmed salmon, but why would wild blueberries be better than cultivated blueberries? Is wild always better, or is this just a marketing ploy?

A. There is no doubt that the domestication of animals and cultivation of plants for food began less than 10,000 years ago. We "grew up" consuming only wild foods and have not adjusted even yet to modern practices of food production and processing. The result is that many of us suffer from what are called "diseases of civilization" brought on by a diet that is too low in fiber and essential nutrients and too high in contaminants such as herbicide and pesticide residues on plants and hormones and antibiotics in meat.

In general wild foods have more nutrients than domesticated plants or animals. Wild game is leaner, and wild fruits have less sugar. Wild fruits have more antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, sometimes 10 times more than an orange. For example, the Mediterranean diet as practiced in America does not include the wild greens, herbs, walnuts, figs, snails, etc. found in the original diet. Whereas the diet as consumed in Greece yields abundant antioxidants and a very favorable ratio of 2-to-1 omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids, the Americanized version has fewer antioxidants and a 10-to-1 omega-6/omega-3 ratio. The typical American diet has about 20-to-1 omega-6/omega-3 ratio, which is thought to contribute significantly to our national epidemics of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Wild foods usually have a nutritional advantage over a cultivated counterpart, but not always, partly because the growing conditions of cultivated foods can be controlled. For instance, farmed salmon today have an omega-6/omega-3 ratio about twice that of wild salmon because they are fed fish that are not appealing for humans to eat but are high in omega-3 fats. The real drawback of farmed salmon is a higher level of contaminants such as pesticides, dioxins, etc.

There is a lot of psychology associated with the consumption of wild foods. Some stigma is still attached to foraging for wild plants or hunting wild animals for food because in the past this was a mark of poverty. Attitudes are changing, and now the man who was arrested a few years ago in Central Park for teaching people to forage for edible plants is now employed by the city of New York to lead tours on that subject. It has always been fashionable to search for some food plants, wild mushrooms for instance. There is general agreement that many wild foods, such as wild blueberries, have a superior taste compared to cultivated varieties.

You may pay a premium for wild foods if you buy them in a supermarket rather than gathering your own. In a rural setting, the collection of wild food does not necessarily involve using a lot of extra energy since many foods are collected along the wayside, often by women and children while going about other chores. If it is necessary to pay someone else to find, harvest, and prepare wild food, the cost of labor involved may be considerable. In addition, some wild foods require special preparation to remove undesirable or even toxic substances. A "wild food" guidebook suitable for your area is a prudent investment if you want to experiment.

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