“Eat your vegetables!” How many times did we hear that from our parents at the dinner table? How many times have we given the same mandate to our children and grandchildren? Fruits and vegetables are inherently good for you; experts recommend a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Nature’s harvest has the ability to keep you and yours healthy and wise an entire lifetime.
Fruits and vegetables are full of health promoting, anti-inflammatory, heart protective and cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals, are the pigments (different colors) of fruits and vegetables.
There are so many different colors and shades of fruits and vegetables, so you can imagine how many phytonutrients there must actually be. Polynutrients are powerful entities and help cells stay healthy and repair damaged cells. They also protect blood vessels, improve eyesight, and fight disease.
Many fruits, particularly berries, are high in antioxidants. According to Web MD, “Antioxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. Scientists believe they help prevent and repair the stress that comes from oxidation, a natural process that occurs during normal cell function. A small percentage of cells becomes damaged during oxidation and turns into free radicals, which can start a chain reaction to harming more cells and possibly disease. Unchecked free radical activity has been linked to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.”
Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries ranked highest among the fruits studied. Apples ran a close second, and dried fruits were also leading contenders. Peaches, mangos, and melons, while scoring lower than berries, still contain plenty of antioxidants as well as other nutrients.
Dark green leafy vegetables are calorie for calorie, probably the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. They are a rich source of minerals (including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins, including vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. They also provide a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein d zeaxanthin, which protect our cells from damage and our eyes from age-related problems, among many other effects. Dark green leaves even contain small amounts of Omega-3 fats.
Beta-carotene is a member of the carotenoids, which are highly pigmented (red, orange, yellow), fat-soluble compounds naturally present in many fruits, grains, oils, and vegetables (green plants, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, apricots, and green peppers). Alpha, beta, and gamma carotene are considered pro-vitamins because they can be converted to active vitamin A.
Wow!! What’s the catch you say? How can anything so plentiful, delicious and reasonably inexpensive (certainly less expensive than pharmaceuticals) be so beneficial for your mind and body? Well, I’m here to tell you, be aware of three possible pitfalls on the road to better health with fruits and vegetables.
Pesticides, chemicals and contaminants
Time elapsed from farm to table
Support your local Farmers Market! The benefits of eating organic food go straight to the farm, where no pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used to grow the organic produce shipped to grocers. That means workers and farm neighbors aren’t exposed to potentially harmful chemicals, it means less fossil fuel converted into fertilizers and it means healthier soil that should sustain crops for generations to come.
For individuals, organic food also has benefits. Eating organic means avoiding the pesticide residue left on foods, and it may even mean more nutritious varietals, though research into that subject has yielded mixed results. While there are few if any proven health impacts from consuming trace quantities of pesticides on foods, a growing number of people take the precaution of avoiding exposure just in case, particularly in the cases of pregnant women (growing babies are exposed to most of the chemicals that mom consumes) and the parents of young children.
The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) plus the farm and food industry representatives are quick to remind consumers that the government sets allowable pesticide residue limits it deems safe, and the produce for sale in your grocery store should meet those standards. I don’t buy it…
Buy in season! Earlier generations were much more in tune with the Earth’s natural seasons and cycles. What they ate was determined by what could be grown locally and what could be grown, stored and preserved through the cold winter months. In today’s world, we’ve gotten used to having any kind of food we want, whenever we want it.
Gone are the days when walking to the local market was the only way to purchase fruits and vegetables that were available and in season. Today’s consumer knows that the bounty of produce in their local supermarket is just as likely to include broccoli in July as it is in December.
Yet fruits and vegetables in season are much more supportive of not only your health, but also the health of the planet.
When you buy fruits and vegetables that are NOT in season, City Market suggests:
They have to be brought to you across long distances, if not from across the globe. In fact, some statistics suggest that fruits and vegetables at your local supermarket travel between 1500 and 2500 miles before they get to you.
They are picked while still immature, to ensure that they don’t spoil along the way. Not only does this affect the fresh taste and aroma of your fruits and vegetables, it causes vitamin degradation and nutrient loss.
Shipping fruits and vegetables over long distances has a huge impact on our planet: increased greenhouse gas emissions, atmosphere pollution, and depletion of the earth’s limited energy resources!
Eat raw when possible and don’t overcook your vegetables! Soggy, dull-colored vegetables are most likely overcooked. Water-soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients, such as vitamin C and certain phytochemicals, are substantially reduced during the cooking process. As a result you are having less of these nutrients when eating overcooked vegetables. Invest in a good steamer and lightly steam your vegetables or do a quick sauté in olive oil. The longer you cook the more nutrients you will loose.
Maintain or improve your health and the health of your loved ones by eating more of the Earth’s natural bounty but remember to avoid the man-made pitfalls of good nutrition. Bon Appétit y’all!
– Janis Merrill-Gipson
Janis is a self proclaimed domestic diva, living in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Janis is a chef, who loves to cook, an interior decorator, art collector, jazz fan, and an avid reader. She believes there are many layers and components that comprise living an enriched life. And Janis is here to share tips.