Summertime and superpower foods
By member Kristen Sherman, Muncie, Ind.
“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food’” (Genesis 1:29).
Did you know there are foods that naturally power our bodies, have been linked to maintaining healthy blood pressure and decrease the risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes? This type of food can be found in every grocery store and is plentiful this time of year.
These super-powered foods are fruits and vegetables. Do you remember your mother or grandmother telling you to eat them when you were young? Here’s why they did:
- Vegetables typically have few calories, are low in fat and are cholesterol-free.
- Potassium, dietary fiber, folic acid, and vitamins A and C are all found abundantly in fruits and vegetables.
- Dietary fiber from vegetables can help decrease blood cholesterol levels. It also helps regulate bowel health by reducing constipation and diverticulitis.
- Fiber from vegetables can promote a feeling of fullness, which can result in eating fewer calories.
- Folate (folic acid) can help reduce the risk of birth defects.
- Vitamin A protects against infections and promotes eye and skin health.
- Vitamin C promotes healing of cuts and wounds, maintains teeth and gum health and aids in iron absorption.
Fruits and vegetables contain thousands of phytonutrients. These naturally-occurring compounds help protect plants from germs, fungi, insects and other threats. When consumed by humans, phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They may even help prevent disease and help keep the body functioning properly.
Harnessing the power of super foods
To get superior taste and freshness from fruits and vegetables this growing season, consider these “outside the supermarket” options (some even run year-round):
- Farm stand: Many local farmers sell fruits and vegetables from stands in parking lots, roadside stands or directly from their farms. Variety and quantity of produce may be limited.
- Farmers markets: Markets are a convergence of a number of local farmers. Produce variety is typically high. Bulk quantities of fruits and veggies may be available at very reasonable prices.
- Community-supported agriculture (CSA): CSAs are growing in popularity and are a fun way to support local farmers. Participants pay a set fee to the farmer during the growing season. In exchange, they receive an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables at regular intervals.
- Food co-ops are similar to grocery stores in that they have longer open hours and broader variety than other options. They’re stocked with only locally-grown produce.
Here are a few shopping tips:
- If you see an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable, ask the farmer for suggestions on preparation and cooking.
- Only in-season fruits and vegetables in your area will be available for purchase.
- Verify that the produce is locally-grown. Occasionally fruits and vegetables can be purchased from the same supplier your grocery store uses, and then passed off at a farm stand as “farm fresh.”
- Most stands accept cash only, so take small bills unless you’re certain the farm stand accepts other forms of payment.
- Resist the urge to squeeze and “over-handle” the produce. Locally-grown foods are more fragile and easier to damage; farmers appreciate careful handling of the merchandise. The produce has been bred for flavor, not portability.
- If purchasing organic food is important to you, ask about farming practices. Many items may not be certified organic, but farmers may still use organic growing practices.
- Markets tend to be less busy at opening and closing times. Plan to go early or late if you prefer to miss the crowd.
- No two markets or farm stands are alike. Have a general idea of items you’d like to purchase but allow yourself to be surprised.
Storing locally-grown produce
Locally-grown produce has a huge advantage: it wasn’t shipped. This means you’re purchasing produce at peak quality and ripeness with the highest levels of vitamins and minerals. Here are tips to keep fruits and vegetables at their best until ready for use:
- If it should be refrigerated, leave it unwashed and in its original packaging. If it didn’t come in packaging, place it in a loose-fitting plastic bag.
- If it should be stored at room temperature, remove its packaging. Leaving it in packaging may cause it to ripen faster.
- Don’t trim leaves or stems until you’re ready to prepare the food. This helps maintain freshness.
- Rinse and dry lettuce and spinach that may be gritty or have a small amount of dirt. Wrap it in a paper towel, place it in a plastic bag and refrigerate.
- Don’t wash berries or mushrooms until ready to use.
- Always wash the outside of fresh fruits and vegetables before cutting, even if they look clean. (This goes for supermarket produce as well.) Washing removes any microscopic organisms that could cause foodborne illnesses.
God has surrounded us with a colorful and tasty supply of superpower fruits and vegetables. Be inspired. Take advantage of your summer options and purchase some of these amazing foods from your local farmers!
Editor’s note: Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She also serves as a nutritional consultant for companies launching educational products. Kristen and her husband, Pastor Michael Sherman, have been CHM members since Jan. 2017 and reside in Muncie, Ind.