Healthy Choices

“People in the U.S. are placing more value on the food they eat and how it’s grown.” Local Harvest

I don’t always buy organic; I’d like to, but at times it’s just too limiting. I remind myself that the availability of local/organic foods has grown…a lot. In 2002 when my son was born, the organic section of my local grocery store did not exist. There has been a steady increase of organic, and now “local” is making a mark in the aisles of supermarkets. I’m patient. I think if an idea grows steady and slowly, it will have staying power.

Admittedly, there are times when I need to hear that I’m part of a larger community; that there are people, a lot of people, who value and believe in sustainable local agriculture.

Erin Barnett, Director Local Harvest wrote about a growing shift toward healthier foods.

Dairy gets the top spot for a few reasons: cows on organic farms eat fresh grass, so their milk is higher in healthy amino acids. Eating organic milk and dairy products also allows us – and our children – to avoid pesticide residues which make their way from the cows’ grain to the milk, and dodges the infamous rBGH (bovine growth hormone). If organic dairy is outside your budget, you would do well to look for products labeled “rBGH free.”

After dairy, Riddle recommends making sure that fruits and vegetables that are consumed raw and not peeled are organic.

No one should feel they have to eat organic/local foods all the time. All movement toward healthier foods is moving forward.

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While everyone has their own reasons for buying locally grown seasonal foods, reducing their carbon footprint could be reason enough. The peaches, nectarines, berries and grapes we find in the supermarket in April might come from as far away as Chile –that’s thousands of food miles.

The benefits of eating seasonally and locally are not limited to reducing the use of fossil fuel in the food chain though.

While eating seasonally and locally can be a way of life that revolutionizes how you eat, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Grow some of your own fruits and vegetables (even if it’s just a few tomatoes), shop at local farmer’s markets (use the RealTime Farms market locator), buy into a CSA, or even continue shopping at your local supermarkets (ask a store manager, many supermarkets carry local produce, but don’t always label it “local”). Even if you do buy out of season sometimes, simply eating seasonally and locally when you are able to will improve the quality of the food you eat and reduce your carbon footprint.

Okay, now I feel as though I’m preaching to the choir. If you’re a realfoodmom reader, you are certainly aware of all the reasons for eating  minimally processed, local and organic foods. Nevertheless, when you’re tempted to buy strawberries in March, remember all the reasons why you wait for them to be locally available:

  1. Local food tastes better. Shipped produce is almost always picked before it is ripe.
  2. Local food is more nutritious. Once harvested, produce quickly loses nutrients. Since local produce is sold right after it’s picked, it retains more nutrients.
  3. Local food supports local families. The wholesale prices that farmers get for their products are low – often near the cost of production. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food – which helps farm families stay on their land.
  4. Local food builds community. Knowing farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the land, and your food. In many cases, it gives you access to a place where your children and grandchildren can go to learn about nature and agriculture.
  5. Local food is an investment in the future. By supporting local farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow. When farmers get paid more for their products by marketing locally, they’re less likely to sell farmland for development. When you buy locally grown food, you’re doing something proactive to improve the way foods are produced.

I try to stock up on all our favorites throughout the growing season. Here, that’s June through September. Freezing produce is so incredibly simple. Of course some fruits and vegetables are better suited to canning. Tomatoes for instance; you can’t freeze tomatoes. Well, you can, but you wont be happy with the result. Simple, step-by-step instructions make canning almost as simple as freezing.

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While it’s berry season, stock the freezer with bags of berries. Why? Haven’t you heard? Blueberries are a “Super Food”.

As a rule I don’t usually follow food trends. Following food trends and diets just confuses me. Lately though, I’ve been reading statements trumpeting the sensational health benefits of the simple blueberry. I have to admit, I’ve been intrigued. I rarely write about nutrition – I leave that to the scientists. They love to write about antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I know because I’ve been reading quite a few of their studies regarding berries.

I’ve found there are a lot of studies and scientific papers addressing preventative, curative and therapeutic properties of berries. While I haven’t found any scientific papers stating, “blueberries fight cancer,”  many feel comfortable stating that phytonutrients (compounds found in berries) have demonstrated an ability to protect against diseases.

Science not folklore:

Dark red and purple berries contain the phytonutrient called anthocyanin. According to Mary Ann Lila, Director of Research for the Plants for Human Health Institute at the North Carolina State University, Anthocyanin pigments and associated flavonoids have demonstrated an ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases, yet they have been notoriously difficult to study with regard to human health. Anthocyanins interact with other phytochemicals, thus effects of individual components are difficult to determine. The complex, multicomponent structure of compounds makes precise assignment of bioactivity to individual pigments inconclusive.(a)

Phytonutrients(b), antioxidants(c), fiber and vitamins, all reside inside berries. While studies continue, we’ll just keep eating berries. I’ll assume the berry, in it’s entirety (the “whole-food”), is a “Super Food”.

Since almost all berries contain those finger-staining phytonutrients, I remain uncertain as to what makes the blueberry unique. Why are blueberries enjoying superstar status among berries? There are certainly studies that examine the health benefits of “berries” as a group, making little distinction between varieties. A paper from Tufts University cites preliminary findings of a variety of studies that do not singularly focus on blueberries: Reminding us that research continues into the potential health benefits of blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries and more.

We love berries of all kinds. Berries are an A-list snack ’round here. I’m buying berries now at their peak freshness and flavor from a local farm and our farmers market. And I’ve made space in our freezer to save some of the sweetness of Summer for the Winter months.

(a)Mary Ann Lila

(b)The term “phyto” originated from a Greek word meaning plant. Phytonutrients are certain organic components of plants, and these components are thought to promote human health. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and teas are rich sources of phytonutrients.

(c)Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A, and other substances.

American Society for Nutrition, 2008, health benefits of nutrients in berries and other foods.

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