3 Tips to Help You Harvest Healthy Habits
By Coleen Andruss, MD
Tip 1: Begin better health at the grassroots level – in the garden.
Growing and eating fresh food works wonders on anyone trying to optimize their health. Fruits and vegetables should be an important part of a daily diet. They contain vitamins and minerals that can keep us healthy. They contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals), which are biologically active substances that help protect us from diseases such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and many more.
Tip 2: Try to eat seasonally.
Seasonal eating is advantageous for many reasons! If we eat with the season, it becomes nature’s way of making sure our body gets a healthy mix of nutrients and plant chemicals. Seasonal eating promotes balance with the earth’s resources and its life forms. Seasonal fruits and vegetables retain more nutrients than non-seasonal. Because of modern agriculture and food processing techniques, most foods are available year-round. In order to preserve foods that are out of season, these items are often covered in pesticides, waxes and preservatives in order to maintain their fresh appearance. The longer produce sits on the shelves, the more nutrients and antioxidants they lose. For example, studies show that spinach and green beans lose 2/3 of their vitamin C within a week of harvest. Seasonal eating also supports our local farmers and tends to be cheaper.
Tip 3: When eating vegetables and fruits, eat them raw as often as you can to get the most benefit.
Sometimes the best nutrients are found in the skin. If cooking vegetables, use stir fry, grill, bake or steam and do NOT overcook. As a general rule, other than a couple of exceptions, the longer vegetables are cooked, the more nutrients they lose. Eat a wide variety and try to eat a colorful diet. Foods of similar colors generally contain similar protective compounds. To get the maximum benefit, eat a colorful diet to give you all the protection possible. RED foods (tomatoes, watermelon) contain lycopene, important for fighting prostate cancer and heart disease. GREEN foods (spinach, kale) contain lutein and zeaxanthin which helps age related eye disease. BLUE and PURPLE foods (blueberries, eggplant) contain anthocyanins which may help protect the body from cancer. WHITE foods (cauliflower) contain sulforaphane which may also protect against some cancers.
Here are some of the most important seasonal foods and their benefits:
Strawberries- One cup provides 3.5 grams of fiber and meets 100% of your daily vitamin C needs. They also contain lots of manganese which is important for bone development. Choose plump, firm, well- shaped, uniformly colored for the best nutrient value. Peak season is spring through early summer.
Asparagus– Low in fat, high in fiber, very high in iron, and provides B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and iron, as well as vitamin K for strong bones. Peak season is March through June.
Cherries– Low in calories (1 cup is 100 calories), high in fiber and high in potassium. Choose large, plump, firm and rich in color, as the color of cherries is due partly to anthocyanin which is a great anti-oxidant.
Peas (snow and sugar snap)- Peak in the spring. They are low in fat, high in fiber, contain B and C vitamins, as well as zinc. They are best if eaten raw, and are a good source of plant protein. Radishes– Very low calorie root vegetable. Choose those deep in color with solid roots. One cup of sliced radishes gives you 30% of your daily vitamin C requirements in less than 25 calories. Fava beans– Peak in early spring through summer. They are lightly sweet with a nutty flavor, high in protein and high in fiber. They are best when young and can be eaten raw or cooked. Mature favas must be both shelled and skinned, as they are very tough.
Artichokes– Peak March to May. A small amount of 2 ounces provides 3 grams of fiber and just 25 calories, as well as a good source of iron, potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamin C. Rhubarb– The stalks are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and manganese.
Spinach– A superfood! It contains vitamins A and C which are essential for eye health and immune function, vitamin K which is essential for strong bones, folate and iron which help to prevent anemia, as well as magnesium and potassium for muscle development and growth.
Get ready to harvest healthier habits by growing, shopping for and eating seasonal foods!