February may seem an odd time to be writing about the merits of fresh produce, but if you want to give your valentine something straight from the heart, and good for their heart also, you can’t do better than a fruit basket, or even a basket of veggies. You want to buy locally as much as possible, of course, but in the harsh cold of a Canadian winter perhaps an exception could be made, especially on Valentine’s Day.
Some people still think that fresh produce is expensive. Compounding this inappropriate view of the cost of nutrients is the notion held by some that the fruits and vegetables purchased in the “regular” aisle of the grocery store somehow just don’t measure up. The term “health food” has led certain consumers to view ordinary produce as “sick food” devoid of or lacking sufficient nutrients essential for health. Balderdash!
The nay-sayers would have us believe that the loss of nutrients when produce is transported is significant — it isn’t; worse than that, they think that the farmer plants seeds in nutritionally depleted soil, resulting in nutrient-deficient foods. Let’s get this straight: in the first place, a carrot doesn’t produce nutrients as a favour to you and me; it does so because of its genetic programming. Furthermore, if the soil in which the carrot seed is planted is missing out on the nutrients that the carrot needs, then the carrot doesn’t grow. What the farmer has in that case is bankruptcy… not nutrient-deficient carrots.
Despite some of these misgivings, the popularity of fresh fruits and vegetables is at an all-time high — which is as it should be, given the density of their nutrient content. Low in calories, packed with nutrients, fresh produce offers an amazing array of health-giving substances. A good example is fibre. Along with the cellulose and hemi-cellulose also found in whole grains and cereals, fruits and vegetables will donate the fibre pectin to your daily basket. Pectin is of importance because of the many studies showing that added pectin in the diet lowers LDL cholesterol levels. Vegetables are also a source of protein. It’s true they don’t supply complete proteins in the balance or proportions necessary, but a potato is a lot more than just a vehicle for sour cream and butter; it contributes important amino acids to a meal.
Those who complain about the cost of fruits and vegetables often eat junk food with a vitamin-pill chaser. The former is obviously lacking in nutrients and the latter can’t possibly emulate fruits and vegetables in providing the balanced amounts of the many vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals the body needs. The same is true for frozen produce, which has the advantage of being frozen at the peak of ripeness, thus providing an excellent source of many nutrients.
A lot has been said and written about the health-giving properties of dark chocolate… and it may be true. But if you really care about the one you love, it’s hard to beat a turnip!
Helen Bishop MacDonald is a consulting nutritionist in the agricultural industry.