Sit up straight and eat your vegetables! How many times did Mom nag you with this line when you were growing up? Well, now you’re all grown up, and, if you want to slump down at the kitchen table, or rest your head on your hand while downing your cornflakes… so be it. But, when it comes to eating your veggies, take Mom’s advice to heart.
Produce packs a punch – it’s so easy to get the doctor-recommended two to seven servings of fruits and veggies daily, but to do so, what works best for you? How do you get the most nutrients out of the produce you choose for your drinks, snacks and meals?
Less than one-third of Americans eat the recommended two servings of fruit per day, and just 26 percent consume the suggested three servings of vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So, why do we pass up the fruits and veggies nowadays… no one is forcing us to down a serving of Brussels sprouts, or risk no dessert. Is it because there is not enough time to buy and prepare them?
In the Summer, who can resist going to a farmers market or roadside stand to select from the farmer’s harvest of fresh produce? Unlike your favorite store where most of the produce is inviting looking with its shiny waxed coating, the farmer merely plops his wares into a wooden basket, so what you see is what you get. Those sun-ripened, albeit misshapen, beefsteak tomatoes are luscious looking, probably just picked from the vine that morning, and so delicious – so who cares if they are smudged with dirt around the edges? At the farmer’s market or roadside stand, you are getting optimal freshness, because produce is picked in-season, at the height of ripeness, when nutrients are at their peak; since farmers allow their produce to fully ripen prior to bringing it to market or selling it. If only we could get the farmer’s best produce all year ‘round. But we cannot, so we are forced to get our produce by alternate means and hope that we retain at least some of those nutrients, especially the antioxidants which are needed to fight free radicals.
There are many ways to get your daily recommended fruits and vegetables. For some, it is a time factor – we don’t always have a leisurely Saturday to drive to the farmer’s market, or roadside stand, and that only works in Summer anyway. So, we resort to the grocery store because we think fresh produce is best. The large grocery stores generally patronize the local farmers within a 100-mile radius if possible, but most produce comes from California or Florida, which have longer growing seasons. That produce is still good and nutritious, however, farmers harvest their product much earlier to thwart damage or spoilage while transporting it to the grocery stores, so some nutritional value is already lost by the time you use it.
The best way to enjoy fresh produce is just by washing it off to ensure there is no pesticide residue, because over 400 chemical pesticides are routinely used in conventional farming. After scrubbing that produce, then savor each bite, or drip of that juicy peach as you lean over the sink. For fun, you could grill some fruit, like peaches, on a skewer, but fresh fruits and veggies are made to be enjoyed naturally for maximum nutrient benefits. You can also get maximum nutrients from your fresh vegetables by steaming them lightly and they will be tender and full of goodness.
Frozen fruits and veggies are picked at the peak of ripeness, with higher levels of micronutrients than their fresh counterparts, and, continue to retain the nutrients up to one year while stored in your freezer. The only drawback is that this produce must be blanched (briefly boiled) before they are flash-frozen, so then valuable nutrients are reduced from 20-60 percent. For the healthiest frozen foods, check the label to find zero or minimally added ingredients (salt, sugar, or artificial colors). Frozen produce is convenient to have on hand for soup as well.
Canned fruits and vegetables, just like frozen veggies, are generally harvested at their peak or ripeness and nutrient content, blanched, then canned. Though canned produce tends to lose water-soluble nutrients like vitamins B1 and C, some produce actually benefits from the canning process, like tomatoes (lycopene) or carrots and pumpkin (beta carotene). The biggest canned produce con is the presence of BPA (bisphenol A, also known as BPA), a plastic additive used in food packaging, that’s been linked to cancer and endocrine issues. BPA leaches into canned foods that are acidic, salty, or fatty, such as coconut milk, tomatoes, canned fish, soup, and vegetables. While the FDA proclaims BPA is safe at the current levels, if you have the option of buying foods in BPA-safe cans, go for it.
The process of rehydration of fruits and veggies has been around for a long time. Dried fruit, as opposed to veggies, is more readily available and is great to stock in the pantry, or use as a portable snack. Dried fruit has a long shelf life, high-fiber content, and most of its nutrients are retained after the drying process, with the exception of thiamin and niacin. You can revitalize dried fruit by cooking it. But, dried fruit has a drawback in that it packs more calories by volume than its fresh counterpart, so don’t overdo it and remember to enjoy fresh produce as well. Persons with sulfite allergies should be mindful of eating dried fruits (except dark raisins and prunes).
Many people are opting for creating their own fruit juice rather than relying on store-bought juices which are sugar-laden, full of additives, and, which lose valuable nutrients the longer they sit on store shelves. Of course, creating your own juice is time-consuming and messy. In preparing your fruits and veggies for juicing or pressing, be mindful that you, or manufacturers, do lose valuable nutrients (like fiber), and many people opt to use fruits rather than vegetables and fruit juices are more caloric.
So today’s top health tip is to eat your fruits and veggies, by whatever means, but always remember that fresh is best!