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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The whole food truth

A Spokane nutritionist offers tips for making healthy, tasty choices at farmers markets

Raw or cooked, purslane packs a nutritonal punch. This bunch was for sale recently at the Urban Eden Farm booth at the Thursday Market in the South Perry District. (The Spokesman-Review)
Raw or cooked, purslane packs a nutritonal punch. This bunch was for sale recently at the Urban Eden Farm booth at the Thursday Market in the South Perry District. (The Spokesman-Review)

Take a walk around the farmers market with John Gilbert and he’s quick to point out all that is green.

Kale. Collards. Chard. Chicory. Spinach. Purslane. Broccoli. Bok choy.

Green, the Spokane nutritionist reiterates from booth to booth, is good.

It’s also at the front of an acronym developed by doctor and “Eat to Live” best-selling author Joel Fuhrman.

To get the most nutritional bang for your buck at the farmers market – or any market – Gilbert, president of the Greater Spokane Dietetic Association, recommends going green. He also suggests using Fuhrman’s acronym – G-BOMBS – as a guide.

Foods in these six groups – greens, beans and legumes, onions and other alliums, mushrooms, berries, and seeds and nuts – are generally nutrient-rich but low in calories. They should make up the bulk of a person’s day-to-day diet, said Gilbert, who has a master’s degree in human nutrition from Washington State University and is particularly interested in the area of adult weight management.

He doesn’t call himself a vegetarian, but he does aim to eat the G-BOMBS way himself.

The acronym is catchy and easy to remember, especially when faced with what sometimes seems like overwhelming shopping options, often labeled – especially at farmers markets – as all natural, organic and locally made or grown. These characterizations sound homemade-granola good: warm, comforting, cleansing, even downright neighborly.

But, Gilbert warns, just because foods are described in those terms doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good for you. “People put what’s called the halo effect on these foods,” he said. “It’s like what we do to celebrities: everything they do is good.”

The halo effect describes cognitive bias toward a person or product because of factors such as attractive physical attributes – or branding foodstuffs “healthful” or “artisanal.”

While these ideas are valued by many consumers, Gilbert cautions against getting sucked in by advertising and key words.

“If we’re talking about optimal health, eat more whole, unrefined plant foods,” he said. “That’s not my opinion. That’s what the research says.”

When in doubt, Gilbert said, “Get more greens.”

Greens can be consumed in virtually unlimited quantities and should be a go-to item when wondering what to get at the farmers market. Cruciferous vegetables such as bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and collard greens are high in vitamin C, fiber and phytochemicals. So, Gilbert said, put them at the top of the shopping list.

Cabbage is usually cheapest. Kale packs much nutritional punch.

“Kale is going to be your No. 1,” Gilbert said. “Spinach is another good one. Watercress is very powerful, too. For the most part, any vegetable is good.”

But, to eliminate food waste and get the most nutrition for your money, Gilbert said, “Ask yourself: what are you going to eat most of?”

Growers and other food producers at local farmers markets are generally happy to offer serving suggestions. Some markets, such as Thursday Market in the South Perry District, give out different recipes each week spotlighting seasonal produce.

“Experiment with different flavors. Don’t get bogged down with the same thing,” Gilbert said. “Use the Internet for inspiration. Ask, ‘How do you make this taste good?’ ”

To double check nutritional values, he recommends the website nutritionfacts.org.

His personal food philosophy can be summed up in three words: healthy, tasty, simple. He often opts for convenience. He likes craft beer, too – in moderation.

“Most people think it’s all or nothing,” Gilbert said. And, many believe it’s more expensive. “That’s the biggest misconception. It’s cheaper to eat (a diet of) non-refined, whole plant foods” versus processed foods.

Farmers markets nationwide are signing up to become more accessible to low-income shoppers through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The USDA reports that $18.8 million in food stamps were redeemed at farmers markets last year, a nearly six-fold increase since 2008. The number of farmers markets accepting food stamps for that same time period has increased from 753 to more than 6,400, according to the USDA.

Locally, there’s added incentive for low-income shoppers to make purchases at farmers markets. For every $5 federal aid recipients spend at farmers markets in and around Spokane County, Fresh Bucks gives another $2.

The program, coordinated by the nonprofit Catholic Charities, aims to improve access to fresh produce for low-income families and individuals. Funding comes from a federal grant as well as farmers and Catholic Charities donors. Every market in Spokane County, save for the one in Liberty Lake, participates.

“It’s awesome,” said Karyna Hamilton, manager of the Thursday Market. “And people use it. And it’s really incredible to watch more and more people use it.”

For more information, visit http://www. Catholiccharitiesspokane .org/fresh-bucks.

For shoppers on a tight budget, Gilbert recommends cabbage as well as beans and legumes, such as Palouse-grown lentils. “I love beans” – a staple in his own diet – “because they’re cheap,” he said.

Another one of his favorite go-to, cheap greens is broccoli.

“It’s convenient,” said Gilbert, who often enjoys it raw and dipped in hummus. “It’s packed with nutrients and fiber. And it’s really high in calcium for a vegetable.”

Gilbert prefers to get calcium and protein from greens and beans versus dairy products. He also likes mushrooms for their “nice, meaty texture” and versatility. “You can mix them with flavors you usually do with meat,” he said.

Plus, like broccoli, they’re good for dipping, and, “I’m a big person for dips.”

If you do dairy, he suggests locally made yogurt.

“It’s full of protein and probiotics and all that good stuff,” said Mika Maloney, owner of Batch Bakeshop, which sells Flora Yogurt, made at her West Central storefront.

“If you’re going to consume dairy, yogurt comes out on top,” Gilbert said, noting it can be a vehicle to get more fruits, berries, seeds, nuts and veggies. Mix it with spinach. Dip in raw carrots, broccoli and mushrooms.

In summer, look for cherries and berries that are high in fiber and antioxidants. In fall, opt for apples and walnuts.

Gilbert avoids cheese, which is high in fat and can be one of the costlier items at the farmers market, as well as baked goods that use white flour and offer calories but little nutrition. And his rule for honey, even local honey, is the same as his rule for craft beer: consume in moderation.

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