Is your produce packing a punch? As Owners of the Co-op, we know you value high quality, organic, and locally grown fruits and vegetables. Eating healthy is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle, and incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet is an integral part of maintaining your health and wellness. So why not get the most bang for your buck? Let’s face it—all fruits and vegetables were not created equal. If you could choose between a salad that consisted of iceberg lettuce and a salad of mixed greens, I’d guess most of you would choose the mixed greens salad. Why? Because you know it’s healthier!
Today, the five most popular fruits and vegetables in the American diet are potatoes, corn, iceberg lettuce, apples, and bananas. Like all fruits and vegetables, they’re all good for you, it’s just that others are better! For example, let’s compare a baked potato to a baked sweet potato. One baked potatowill give you 1% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 48% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin C. If you substituted one serving of sweet potatoes for the baked potato, you’d receive 769% of your vitamin A, and 65% of your vitamin C. You’re getting some fiber out of that side of corn, but you’ll even get more out a side of broccoli, not to mention a mega dose (300% RDA) of vitamin C. Unfortunately, if your five-a-day plan is restricted to the five most popular, you’re actually falling short of the RDAs for many essential vitamins and minerals. And, if you’re counting french fries as a serving, you’re probably doing more harm than good.
Foods like sweet potatoes and broccoli have recently been termed “powerhouses” or “superfoods.” Unlike other fruits and vegetables, these powerhouses are a concentrated source of nutrients specifically linked to a reduced risk in certain chronic diseases and other major health problems. Powerhouse fruits and vegetables contain the highest concentrations of essential nutrients (fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals), as well as non-essential nutrients, referred to as phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are revered for their healing and preventative abilities. The benefits list of these ‘non-essential’ nutrients includes such functions as: repairing damaged DNA caused by toxic exposures, detoxifying carcinogens, serving as antioxidants, enhancing immune response, promoting cell vitality, decreasing risk of stroke, serving as an anti-inflamatory, preventing heart disease, and on and on and on. The most common classes of phytonutrients found in produce are carotenoids and flavonoids. Carotenoids are the red, orange, and yellow pigments, while flavonoids give fruits and vegetables their dark red and purple colors. As a rule of thumb, you can increase your intake of powerhouse produce by making sure you’re eating a variety of colors.
Kale is king of the crop when it comes to powerhouse vegetables! It is loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, and is a good source of fiber. Kale is the number-one antioxidant vegetable, with high concentrations of the phytonutrients beta carotene and lutein. Kale also contains high levels of sulfur, which when chopped or chewed, forms sulforaphane. Sulforaphane stimulates the body’s detoxifying enzymes and triggers the liver to remove free radicals and other chemicals that damage DNA and can lead to cancer.
Kale is one of the staples in the Co-op’s Produce department. In fact, it’s on our ESP (Everyday Sale Price) program. Kale is available year round, but you’ll find the highest quality kale while it’s in season locally, which is just around the corner. If it’s not here by the end of the month, look for it in early June.
In general, all dark leafy greens are really good for you. Others that stand out as powerhouses include: spinach, chard, and dandelion greens. They are excellent steamed or sautéed on their own or as an addition to soups, stews, and stir-fries. They’re great in salads, and can be substituted as lettuce for an extra boost of nutrition on sandwiches and in wraps.
How many of you have heard that carrots are good for your eyes? Well, they are. Carrots are high in the phytonutrient lutein, which helps prevent macular degeneration. Vitamin A also stimulates the formation of a purple pigment in the eye that raises the effectiveness of the light sensitive area of the retina. This enables us to see better in dim light, thus preventing night blindness.
Like kale, carrots contain a high number of carotenoids, with beta carotene being the most familiar. Working together, these phytonutrients lessen your chance of cardiovascular diseases, as well as lung,stomach, breast, cervical, colon and prostate cancers. You can see why carrots are good for you.
Broccoli may not be king, but it certainly is royalty. Like carrots, it’s good for your eyes, and is an overall nutritional powerhouse. Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, folate, magnesium, and beta carotene.
But, where broccoli really stands out is in its ability to fight cancer. Broccoli is loaded with isothiocyanates that neutralize the carcinogens that can lead to cancer. Broccoli also contains a phytonutrient that increases the ratio of good metabolites in estrogen, helping the fight against breast and cervical cancer.
If you’re looking for power, get ready, cause blueberries are off the charts. Blueberries have the highest concentrations of phytonutrients, and working together, provide excellent antioxidant protection.
Blueberries are rich in a particular flavonoid called anthocyanin, which acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Being that oxidative stress and inflammation work as a team to cause just about every major chronic disease, you can rest assured that blueberries are working for your benefit. Benefits include reduced risks of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.
You can buy fresh blueberries practically year round, however, they can get fairly pricey. Locally, we are able to get berries from northern Wisconsin and Michigan, and the season usually starts in August. These are going to be the freshest, most nutritious berries, and they’re usually the best price. Buy some extra and freeze them. Most studies done on the nutrition of blueberries are based on frozen trials. Rest assured, they’re maintaining their value in the freezer, and they make great smoothies.
Cherries are valued for their anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and cancer-fighting abilities. Cherries are particularly high in the flavonoids queretin and ellagic acid. Queretin is a powerful anti-cancer agent that also demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties. It is known to relieve systems of allergies and asthma. Ellagic acid prevents tumor growth by actually causing the death of cancerous cells without effecting normal cells. Add this to their great taste, and it’s a win-win situation.
Not all fruits and vegetables are powerhouses, but they’re all good for you. Incorportate powerhouses into your diet by trying new things and making sure you’re eating a variety of colors. By choosing powerhouse fruits and vegetable, you are contributing to a healthier community, and enhancing your quality of life!
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