Lots of experts will tout the importance of fresh, and there is no doubt that fresh, is good. The subtle aromas and delicate textures of fresh fruits and vegetables is divine; the variety is amazing.
But there is a caveat to fresh produce. Many fruits and vegetables have been bred with shipping considerations in mind. That’s why, for example, tomatoes are less appealing these days – they’ve thickened the skins to make them ship better. Some growers are even trying to figure out a way to grow a square watermelon!
Transportation methods now allow the shipment of fruits and vegetables across international boundaries from places like Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Mexico with relative ease. The result is that most vegetables and fruit are available fresh year round. But the time involved in long distance shipping will result in the loss of some of their potency, not to mention reducing the shelf life considerably.
One of the ways to combat this shortcoming is to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables that in season in your local area. Farmer’s markets, food cooperatives, specialty food stores, local farm stands are all potential sources for quality fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only does this help out your local farmer and community it also drastically reduces your carbon foot print by saving fossil fuels on transportation.
Another great way to insure a fresh supply is to grow your own!
Even with a small amount of space you can grow lots of tasty veggies – small backyard plots, roof gardens, even container gardening can yield enough supply for a small family. In fact, it makes a great family project. It provides an opportunity for families to spend time together and learn about new fruits and vegetables. They can extend that experience into the kitchen and dining room by preparing and eating together.
Do you have absolutely no space at all? Many local areas offer community garden spaces where individuals can till their own small plot. What’s great about these spaces is you get to share experiences with fellow gardeners, create a sense of community, share recipes and even swap crops.
For tips on gardening see Shirley’s Organic Garden.
Frozen, it turns out, is a good alternative to fresh because most frozen fruits and vegetables are “flash-frozen” within 24 hours of picking which locks in their nutrients. Frozen fruits and vegetables are relatively easy to store with modern refrigeration units. The product is available year round and for most purposes culinary purposes frozen works as well as fresh.
This category includes fruits or vegetables that come in glass jars too. In order to preserve the fruit or vegetable using this method it needs to be subjected to heat and so some of the nutrients will inevitably be lost. The other drawback is canned vegetables most often have sodium added and canned fruit is often suspended in corn syrup. Draining the liquid before consumption will help a bit. But if all you can get are cans or jars of fruits and vegetables it is certainly a better alternative than no fruits or vegetables at all!
Ounce for ounce dried fruits are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and other nutrients. Because vegetables and fruits are mostly comprised of water, dehydration increases relative nutrient level per ounce. Compare for example the ORAC scores of a fresh plum and a dried plum the ratio is 1 to 5. The other advantage of dried fruit is they are easy to carry along for a healthy snack and they can also satisfy your sweet craving.
Juice can be brimming with nutrients and really good for you or it can be a heavily diluted product filled with sugar and as little as 3% juice. Here is one place where it really pays to read the label! Juice is generally found in three places in the grocery store:
- the refrigerated section where you’ll find: a) fresh – squeezed, b) squeezed and pasteurized c) reconstituted from concentrate.
- The freezer section where you’ll find concentrate that needs water added
- The grocery aisle where you will find both 100% juice and other bottled “juices” which may be nothing more than juice flavored sugar water.
A careful reading of juice labels in the grocery aisle can yield a few pleasant surprises. Tomato juice and V8 for example are good bets (though again sodium can be an issue), Juicy Juice makes a 100% juice, Trader Joe’s has many offerings that are 100% juice without added sugar.
When it comes to juice the fresher the better, the higher “pulp” count the more nutritious and always look for the label that says 100% juice.
So with all of these various forms of fruits and vegetables available to us you should be getting the idea that fruits and vegetables are abundant and highly available. Their only problem is they don’t have a high advertising budget, so we haven’t been “sold” on their benefits. One thing is for sure. Over the years we’ve been subjected to a wide variety of advice on nutrition – no scientist or policy maker has ever warned against the consumption of fruits and vegetables.