T’is the Season: Local Foods burst with Nutrients

fruit platterAlthough modern farming and transportation innovations allow Canadians to enjoy the tangy refreshment of tropical pineapple, there are definitely some nutritional upsides to eating homegrown produce this summer – and all year long!

Variety is the nutritional spice

Some estimates suggest that half of the food items in your local grocery store are produced by no more than 10 multinational food and beverage corporations. As a nutrient consumer, this is a concern because different varieties of fruits and vegetables provide a range of phytochemical, vitamin and mineral content. Large corporations determine which foods to produce not for their nutritional quality, but instead for their yield (how much can be harvested) and ability to withstand the rigours of long-distance travel. Flavour and the nutrient tally of produce often suffers as a result.

On the other hand, your local farmer doesn’t have to be concerned about his produce surviving for days in the cargo hold of a jet or the back of a truck, and is able to choose varietals for flavour and nutritional quality. In small communities, farmers grow produce to please the palate. Alongside amateur cooks, local chefs often shop the local farmers’ market for great-tasting produce over well-traveled food.

Ripe for the picking

Certain fruits are chosen for long-distance travel because they can be picked before they mature, and ripen to full colour en route to your dinner table – though some nutrients are left behind. Apples, apricots, nectarines, melons, peaches and tomatoes, examples of these fruits are known as climacteric crops. Other foods like bell peppers only mature while still attached to the plant. Because non-climacteric crops must remain on the plant to mature, they can’t travel as far to reach store shelves before decay sets in.

Whether or not a plant is climacteric, research shows that food allowed to ripen on the plant has higher nutritional quality than food that ripens in a truck. In particular, Vitamin C is much higher in plant-ripened produce, especially in tomatoes. Since tomatoes are a nutritional staple in Canada, be sure to eat vine-ripened, local produce.

Time isn’t on your side

The moment your produce is plucked from the ground or pulled off a tree, it begins to lose nutrients. Vitamin C, the B vitamins and vitamin E are particularly sensitive to the ravages of time. Spinach stored at room temperature loses between 50-90% of its vitamin C within 24 hours of being picked. Some fruits and vegetables, in fact, may lose up to 50% of their nutrients within 3-5 days of harvesting.

Handle with care

A bruised apple isn’t just visually unappealing: when produce is damaged, it actually starts to lose nutrients at an accelerated pace. The further your food travels from farm to plate, the more it’s handled by man and machine, and the greater the risk of damage – particularly delicate items like berries and tomatoes. Smaller local operations more often have a human hands-on approach to farming, reducing risk of damage.

By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle

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