Thank goodness you are now eating lots of fruits and vegetables every day, but are you sure you’re getting the most nutritional value from them, and what can you do to ensure that you are getting the maximum nutrients contained in these foods. To understand we need to take a deeper look at the trip that fruits and vegetables make to get to your dining table.
Many different factors can affect the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables before they reach your table. The two most important are time and traveling conditions. The shorter the time frame that the produce are packed until they reach your table, the better. If you are lucky enough to have a home garden, then try to pick your vegetables early in the morning for peak flavor and nutritional value. The next best choice is to shop at your local farmers’ market. Generally the foods they are selling were picked within a few hours of being set out for sale. If there are no local markets in your area like most people, then your only option is to shop at a supermarket or grocery stores.
Before any produce reaches your local supermarket it must first be picked, and packaged. If the food is coming to you from the same state or neighboring state chances are it was picked within 48 hours of reaching the stores shelves. If your produce is making its way from one coast to another, for example, California to New York, then chances are that the produce is a couple of weeks old at least. Sometimes the produce can spend many weeks travelling in trucks. To be able to survive the brutal journey, they are generally harvested before they reach their nutritional peak, and then artificially ripened during transport. Why do you need to be concerned about when your produce were harvested? Fruits and vegetable are at their peak nutritional value as soon as they are picked off the vine. However, they start to lose some nutrients as time passes, and the more time that passes, the more value they lose.
The second biggest contributor is handling. If care is taken not to bruise or damage the exterior skin, most produce will generally last longer. Additionally storing produce at the proper temperature will also help slow down the loss of nutrients. Here’s where it gets a little tricky, some fruits do well in temperatures as high as 60 degrees (F) or about 16 degree (C), while others prefer temperatures in the mid 30’s or around freezing point. So the shorter your produce is in transit, and the better handling they get, the higher the nutritional value are likely to be when they hits your local supermarket store shelves.
Did you also know that the freezer section can sometimes contain some of the healthiest foods in your local supermarket? Most frozen fruits and veggies are frozen shortly after they’re harvested and fully ripen. So, they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the freezing process helps to “lock in” most of their nutrients. In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables have been shown to packed higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein, and beta-carotene compared to the “fresh” produce on the grocery shelves. Another benefit of buying frozen produce is that freezing preserves the food without any unwanted additives to prolong shelf life. Lastly, freezing the produce means that they are convenient, versatile, and available all year round.
Finally, eating organic fruits and vegetables has been shown to have a healthier nutritional profile than those that have been sprayed with pesticide. So, in addition to having no pesticide residue or genetically modified organisms in your produce, the organic crops have been shown to pack significantly higher antioxidant levels when compared to conventional crops. For example, organic strawberries have much more nutrients and antioxidants than the regular ones, and organic tomatoes can be 50% higher in vitamin C content than those that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
So the next time you see your neighborhood farmers market on the weekend, stop by and see what they have to offer. While you are there, take a minute to ask the farmer or seller about the produce and get to know a little history behind the food.