Eating fresh produce is one the best ways to provide our bodies with vital nutrients. Here are a few tips to make sure that your family is getting the most out of its produce.
1. Buy Local
The great thing about buying local produce is that it does not have to be transported across large distances. This is great news for the environment (less fossil fuels used) and for our bodies. Because less time passes from the farm to the table, there is less time for the nutrients to deteriorate. This means that local produce packs in a greater nutritional bang for your buck. Also, because local food does not need to be transported very far, it can be picked at its optimal ripeness when it’s the most nutritionally dense. This gives it a superior flavor. Buying local also allows you to support local farmers and your community.
2. Buy Organic When Possible
Unfortunately, most of our conventionally grown crops are sprayed extensively with pesticides and herbicides. These pesticides can be extremely difficult to wash off, and some can’t be washed off at all. Organic farming techniques avoid these chemical pesticides, but organic produce is often more expensive than conventional produce.
The good news is that the Environmental Working Group (EWC) releases a list of the Dirty Dozen (the most pesticide-contaminated produce) and the Clean Fifteen (the least pesticide-contaminated produce) each year. These lists can help you decide which foods to buy organic based on their pesticide levels. I always buy organic apples (they contain the highest levels of pesticides of all fruits and vegetables) but I usually buy conventionally grown avocados because they’re on the Clean Fifteen list.
The choice to buy organic is also a choice to look after our environment and our soil. However, don’t forget that it’s better to eat conventionally grown produce than none at all.
3. Sometimes Choose Frozen
Frozen fruits and vegetables can be part of a healthy diet as long as you know what you are buying. Some fruit and vegetable blends contain added salt or sugar, so be sure to check the ingredients. I use frozen fruit almost every day to make smoothies for my kids. Frozen veggies can be used in soups or steamed as a side dish and can be a great backup for those days that you just don’t get to the store. Consume frozen produce within a few months of purchasing to avoid nutrient depletion.
4. Bigger and Shinier Isn’t Always Better
Modern farming techniques have lead to the ‘dilution effect’ in our produce. Modern crops have been bred or engineered to increase yield (size and quantity), even though root systems are unable to draw enough micronutrients from the soil. The effect is that we have larger fruit that contains less nutrients. As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. In the same way, you shouldn’t judge an apple by its size.
5. Hold Off on Pre-Cut Fruits and Veggies
When produce is peeled or cut, its nutrients rapidly deteriorate. Pre-cut fruits and veggies are convenient (and much better than no fruits or veggies), but doing the chopping and peeling yourself will help you maximize your nutrient intake.
6. Minimize Cooking Time
Fruits and vegetables contain natural enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals. Some of these compounds are heat sensitive and can get damaged with cooking. Make sure that you eat some of your produce raw or only lightly steamed.