NUTRITION & HEALTH
Enjoying the benefits of in-season fresh produce
Mary Schroepfer, MED
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist
With springís arrival, many people yearn to start a small garden. Enjoying in-season fresh produce from your own garden can improve your health and stretch your food dollars.
Even if you donít plant your own garden, youíll benefit from eating more fresh produce from a local farmerís market or the neighborhood grocery store.
∑ Eating more fruits and vegetables has health benefits. Fruits and vegetables are an important source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and folic acid. Most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, eating only one or two servings a day, rather than the recommended 7 to 11 servings daily. One serving equals one small piece of fruit, Ĺ cup cooked or chopped fruit or vegetable, or 1 cup of salad greens.
∑ Consuming more produce provides more needed fiber for your diet. Although half of Americans focus on fiber when reading nutrition labels, only one out of five Americans eats the recommended amount of fiber: 30 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women. Only plant foods like vegetables, fruit and whole grains provide fiber. Meat, dairy foods and fats contain no fiber.
∑ Fiber-rich foods can help lower blood cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease. Fruits like apples and oranges, peas, dry beans, carrots, flaxseed, oats and barley are good sources of soluble fiber. Other fiber-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, bran and nuts absorb water, helping prevent constipation. Fiber has been shown to help prevent hemorrhoids and reduce risk of irritable bowel syndrome and diverticular disease. Because individuals eating plenty of fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains are at lower risk of getting life-threatening diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, they tend to live longer.
Fiber can improve blood-sugar levels and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. By slowing absorption of sugars in the diet, fiber can help people with diabetes manage their blood-sugar levels. High-fiber diets can reduce blood-glucose levels up to 30 percent.
∑ Fiber slows the time it takes for your stomach to empty, so you feel full longer. Fiber fills you up, not out. Individuals eating plenty of fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains tend to consume fewer calories and reach a healthy weight more easily.
∑ Fiber may help prevent some forms of cancer, like small bowel cancer. The benefit of preventing colon cancer is uncertain.
∑ Gardening offers an opportunity to enjoy fresh air and increase physical activity. Moving more burns calories.
∑ Eating more fresh produce from your own garden or the local farmerís market can stretch your food dollars. Food is always at its cheapest when plentiful.
Gardening provides produce at its peak nutritional value at just pennies a serving. Gardens can easily provide lettuce, radishes, peas, spinach, carrots, green beans, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and onions for the family table. Sweet corn and potatoes require a bit more growing space. Extra can be canned or frozen or shared with family members or food pantries. In-season produce can add fresh flavors to snacks and meals.