July’s Nutrition Hot Topic: In Season Local Produce

Summer is upon us. You know it has arrived when the smell of charcoal is misconstrued for food. I actually did that. It’s not something I am proud of. It was only the fifth most embarrassing thing to happen to me. Numbers one through three I refuse to discuss. The fourth being the time I fell into the stingray tank at Sea World when I was nine. The tank was only a foot deep and there weren’t technically any stingrays in it at the time, but they had to send a rescue team in after me. Something to do with my quote ‘unwarranted fear and inability to move’.  Well, that and I soiled myself while immersed in the tank. In my defense there is something unsettling about 20 tourists taking pictures of you with waterproof disposable cameras while four people wearing foam Shamu hats pull you out of what feels like a kiddie pool.Moving on, as the summer scorcher settles in and my sweat glands make known their ardent disapproval, I am happy to report that these summer months bring some pretty amazing food. During our remaining weeks of this sweltering season, I encourage you to venture to your local farmer’s markets and explore what wonderful foods your state has to offer.

This topic was inspired by a few things.  First, local produce is going gang busters right now. Secondly, I’m feeling lazy. Thirdly, Ina Garten is my hero. Hero may be too strong of a word. If I could afford Tivo, it would be programmed out the gills with this woman. There is something about observing Ina in her Hampton house kitchen that makes me want to buy a house, gut the kitchen, install marble counter tops, purchase some Viking appliances, and stock the cabinetry with All-Clad pots and pans and a set of stainless steel mixing bowl. As a girl who recycles zip lock bags to save money, did I mention I intend to win the lottery? Getting back on tract, her show is straight up aesthetically pleasing. One of the countless things I like about watching this woman work is her avid use of local foods.  Produce, meat, fish, cheese, bread – you name it, she’s buying it. Sure it’s staged, but I suppose it’s the message that counts.  Buy locally!

During various times of the year, towns across the country have different local produce to offer their citizenry. Pop on over the National Resources Defense Council’s website to identify which fruits and vegetables are sprouting up in your area. The website even contains a link for locating farmer’s markets near you! Good, good stuff.

I thought I would highlight three items on the massive list of in season produce found in my area for the month of July.

   Ahh, my little blue friends. These things are wondrous. At 80 calories a cup, this fruit is focused on your health. Blueberries are one the most antioxidant rich foods out there. I’ve mentioned it here before, but antioxidants are crucial in optimizing health. They reduce free radicals and thus protect cells (and their DNA) from damage. What’s more, one serving of blueberries contains roughly 30% of your daily vitamin C requirement. Support for the immune system, collagen formation, and aid in calcium absorption are all benefits of vitamin C. Lastly, one cannot ignore their dietary fiber. One serving of these bad boys gets you to 15% of your daily requirement with 4 grams per cup.

Eating Tip: On top of your cereal, in your yogurt, or simply by the handful.

   This cruciferous vegetable is one to pick up weekly.  I swear, I pick up a head or two of it every weekend. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the simplest vegetables to prepare and eat. It also goes with just about anything. Burgers, chicken, fish – you name it, broccoli is a perfect side dish to just about any protein. As part of the cruciferous family, these vegetables are aptly categorized by their flower’s petal shape. Cruciferae, New Latin for “cross bearing”, refers to the pedal’s – you guessed it -cross-like shape. 

One cup of chopped broccoli delivers a healthy dose of vitamins K (116% of DV), C (135% DV) and  A (11% of DV). Like blueberries, broccoli is also a decent source of dietary fiber with three grams per cup. What may come as a surprise to some is that broccoli is also a good source of calcium. With 43 mg per serving, this green vegetable can help you get a slight leg up on your calcium consumption. 

Eating Tip: Steam it and top with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut off stems, peal, cut into stalks and dip into humus or Ranch dressing.

Last, but most certainly not least, the luxuriously sweet peach. If there is a fruit I identify most with summer, it would have to be the peach. Hands down. One large peach has about 70 calories and like broccoli wields about 3 grams of dietary fiber, vitamins A (11% of DV) and C (19%).  Peaches are to summer what apples are to fall. Make crisp, bake them into pie, or eat this summer stone fruit right off the pit.

Eating tip: Peach Melba was something my Nana made each summer we went to visit. All you need is one cut up peach, some vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce and you’re golden. It’s the perfect summer dessert on those nights when the heat seems unrelenting.
There are numerous benefits to eating locally. Reducing the carbon foot print and supporting your local farmers are the two obvious benefits. But one advantage of eating locally that often goes unnoticed is the decrease in time it takes to get food(s) from the farm to the table. The less time a fruit or vegetable sits on a truck the better. Where produce is concerned, nutrient loss is a by-product of storage. The further your zucchini has to travel, the less vitamins and minerals it will deliver upon arrival. Just something to think about.If you don’t have a farmer’s market nearby, look in your grocery store for local produce. Two grocery chains in my area have displays of local produce in their lobbies during various times of the year. One chain brags,

“All [produce] items are picked fresh from the stalk, vine or tree and delivered to Dierbergs stores within 24 hours – and in many cases, sooner than that.”

In the midst of an obesity epidemic, noshing on low-calorie, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables is crucial in keeping the pounds off. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber – fruits and vegetables are just the weapons you need to protect your body and your health.

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