“If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”
In a country where French fries and ketchup count as servings of vegetables and pasteurized, fortified orange juice from concentrate is considered a fruit, it is time to regain a real food perspective on fruits and vegetables.
Whole fruits and vegetables provide innumerable vital compounds in the form of enzymes, antioxidants, vita-mins, minerals and phytonutrients. At the same time, fresh produce can also be the carrier of toxic pesticides and harmful bacteria. Let’s look at the benefits and potential risks of fruits and vegetables.
It is safe to say that we all know what vegetables are and that we need to eat them, multiple times every day. No other food source has been proven to fight cardiovascular disease and cancer like vegetables. The good news is that vegetables always need to be eaten with healthy fats. This is where the tradition of butter on cooked veggies and salad dressing on raw veggies comes from.
These fats are essential for all of the nutrients in vegetables to be properly digested, absorbed and utilized.
One of the many key components found in whole vegetables is fiber. Fiber helps control blood sugar by slowing digestion of fast acting carbohydrates and helps maintain regular, comfortable bowel movements. Fiber is primarily found in the skin of vegetables, in crunchy vegetables like celery and bell peppers and leafy greens.
While eating vegetables raw does confer certain health benefits, some vegetables need to be cooked. Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale contain chemicals that inhibit thyroid function and beet greens, spinach and chard contain the mineral blocking oxalic acid. Proper cooking eliminates these harmful compounds while protecting nutrient and enzyme content. The best way to cook these vegetables is to lightly steam them for a short period of time. Lightly sautéing in butter or olive oil is also acceptable.
Fruits are another great source of vital nutrients but as with all things sweet, they come with a small price tag. The primary concern with fruits is the presence of sugar, particularly fructose. While most fruit does not have a significant effect on blood sugar, fructose in abundance has significant health effects.
Fructose has been linked to
- elevated levels of serum triglycerides and uric acid
- insulin resistance
- fatty liver
- vascular disease
- kidney disease
If you suffer from any of these conditions or are unable to lose weight, it is advisable to limit fructose to 25 grams per day. This comes to 3-4 pieces of whole fruit a day. The real problem comes with processed fruits like fruit juices, sweetened canned fruit and dehydrated fruit. With only one serving of these foods you can easily double or triple the 25 gram daily limit.
Storage and Preservation
Thanks to modern technology, fruits and vegetables can be grown all year long around the world, harvested, shipped, stored in warehouses, artificially ripened and sold at your local grocery store. Then, once you make your purchase you can stick the produce in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator to use at your convenience.
Before the convenience of refrigeration, techniques were employed to preserve fruits and vegetables for several months with no detriment to the produce.
One common practice was lacto-fermentation, or the use of salt to inhibit spoil-age while lactic acid producing bacteria produce enough lactic acid to preserve the food. Foods could be stored this way for several months in a cool, dark root cellar. Sauerkraut from Germany, kim chi from Korea and fruit chutneys from India are examples of the use lacto-fermentation to preserve fruits and vegetables. This method of preservation protects nutrients and enzymes, enhances nutritive value through the introduction of probiotic bacteria and eliminates the harmful compounds that typically must be cooked out of certain vegetables.
The Dark Side of Unnatural Bounty
With the invention of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically modified high yield crops and mechanized agriculture in the 1940’s the Green Revolution swept the globe with the intention of eliminating world hunger. Unforeseen to the forefathers of this noble endeavor were the widespread ill effects to both humans and the environment of the uncontrolled use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
In 1972, DDT, a highly carcinogenic pesticide, was banned from use in the US. This did not stop DDT producers from continued manufacture and exportation of DDT to other countries who used it to protect their crops which were then shipped back to the US. This practice continues today.
According to sustainabletable.org:
A 2004 analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data revealed that 100 percent of blood and urine tests from subjects they monitored showed pesticide residues. Two insecticides – chlorpyrifos and methyl parathion – were found at levels of up to 4.6 times greater than what the U.S. government deems acceptable.
In a joint study conducted by scientists from the CDC, the University of Washington and Emory University, researchers found that pesticide levels in test subjects dropped to undetectable levels after switching to an organic diet.
Choose Local Produce, In Season
Scientists and chefs alike agree that local, organic produce, purchased in season is far superior to conventionally grown produce out of season.
Chef Gordon Ramsay, in response to a question about the difference between fresh and imported produce said,
“The most obvious answer is flavor. Local, seasonal food tastes far superior to the fruit and vegetables that have been picked long before they have had a chance to develop any flavor, just so they could travel thousands of miles. Take tomatoes, for example. They always seem to taste better when you’re on holiday in the Mediterranean. The reason is that Mediterranean tomatoes are allowed to ripen on the vine and are generally served on the day of picking.”
This simple change will support good health, a strong local economy and the environment.
If you are unable to purchase local or organic produce it is imperative to properly wash all of your produce to remove toxic pes-ticides. Use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, hydrogen peroxide or Clorox bleach (1 teaspoon per gallon of water) to soak produce for 10 minutes. Rinse well prior to consuming.
Here are a couple of quick and easy ways to track down some local produce:
The biggest push for healthy eating that we commonly hear is to eat more fruits and vegetables. This is excellent advice, but when we are also told to limit fat and salt on top of flavorless, out of season produce, vegetables can be very hard to eat. By making just a few simple changes, fruits and vegetables will become an exciting part of your daily eating routine once again.
Now that you are excited to start eating plenty of flavorful, fresh, local produce everyday, use the resources provided in this section to track down local sources of fresh fruits and vegetables. If there are not any easily accessible local resources, I urge you to purchase seasonal, organic produce at the grocery store to avoid the negative health and environmental effects of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Remember that fruits and vegetables reach their full nutritional potential when consumed with quality, real fats like butter, cheese or olive oil.