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Not All Produce Is Created Equally

You’ve heard the same broken record for years: eat your fruits and vegetables. We’ve even tried to make eating fruits and veggies a fun thing for kids with the “Eat the Rainbow” motto and the “5-A-Day” serving guidelines. 

As a parent, you know the popular nutrients that are commonly found in the foods you serve and want your kids to eat: Vitamin A in carrots, lycopene in tomatoes, and potassium in bananas. While these fun facts and efforts to eat healthier are valid and certainly encouraged, many of us aren’t educated on how to select and cook produce in the best interest of our families’ health.

 If we are making the effort to meet our fruit and vegetable goals, we should be getting the most benefits possible. Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side”, proposes this very idea in her book.  Robinson writes, “Some of the most popular varieties of fruits and veggies are the least nutritious of all, but our society has developed the habit of eating them for a lifetime.” If that’s the case, we need to know how to let go of some of our habits and develop new ones.

Getting more bang for your bite

Here are a few tips to help you change things up with those fruit and vegetable habits so that you are getting the most nutrients and value every time:

Think variety

Recent food science has shown us that not all apples (and produce in general) were created equal. As Robinson reports, a Granny Smith apple provides 3 times more nutrients than Golden Delicious and 13 times more than Ginger Gold. Making a simple switch in your “apple-a-day” can more than triple your nutrients! Here are a few tips for other produce substitutions:

  • Red produce has more antioxidants than green ones (think grapes, apples, cabbage, and bagged salads)
  • The skin is the healthiest part of some produce, don’t leave it out (peaches, potatoes, apples)
  • Exotic tropical fruits (guava, papaya, mango) are more nutritious than our American favorites (banana, pineapple)
  • The smaller and more potent the onion, the greater its antioxidant activity

Opt for freshness

When it comes to produce, timing is everything. Certain types of fruit will continue to ripen after harvesting (avocados, bananas, mangoes, peaches, plums), while others will not (citrus fruits, berries, grapes). Fruits reach their peak nutrition at the point of ripening. Being conscience of the freshness of your produce can give you that extra punch in the long run!

Cook differently

A slew of fad diets have preached the message that “raw is best” – a slogan that is completely false. While the nutrients in some produce are best absorbed raw, others have increased availability through easy kitchen concoctions. Below are some ideas that may challenge your conventional recipes:

  • Cook your green and orange veggies (high in fat-soluble vitamins) with an oil or other fat to increase vitamin availability 
  • Most berries increase their antioxidant activity when they are cooked (blueberry pie, anyone?)
  • Heat or simmer tomato sauce to triple the lycopene content
  • Crush fresh garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes to maximize the health-saving benefits of this seasoning
  • Cook vegetables that are high in starches and carbohydrates (think potatoes, pumpkin, squash) in oil to prevent blood sugar rushes

For more information on selecting and preparing produce to it’s full potential, pick up a copy of “Eating on the Wild Side” by Jo Robinson at your local bookstore. Check out her website for further reading.

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