Excuse Me While I Veg Out

There is nothing quite like fruits and vegetables plucked fresh from the bush or vine, or recently pulled out of the ground or off the stalk. Connecticut is abundant in fresh produce – especially in the summer – and seeking out this unprocessed bounty rich in nutrients and often lower in pesticides or genetic mutations is healthy nutritionally and emotionally.

Connecticut features vegetable and dairy farms and fruit orchards throughout the state. The growing season is long and the climate is perfect for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Beans, squash, broccoli and cabbages start to come in around May and are available through October. Strawberries ripen in June, and in July the farms explode with produce, especially raspberries, blueberries, peaches and sweet corn. In August, the pepper and tomato crops are ready, and as summer comes to a close in September, pumpkins and seasonal squash are ready in plenty of time to welcome the autumn.

Beyond the psychological value of searching out and eating locally grown food, there are practical and healthy reasons to celebrate foods that are in season. That’s when you get the most flavor and nutritional value. It’s also the time when it is the most affordable. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the greatest freshness when you look for foods that are both locally grown and are in season.

An Abundance of Nutrients

Plant foods contain thousands of natural chemicals called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. “Phyto” refers to the Greek word for plant. These chemicals help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs and other threats. Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, as do other plant-based foods such as whole grains, nut, beans and tea.

More than 25,000 phytonutrients are found in plant foods. Phytonutrients aren’t essential for keeping us alive, unlike the vitamins and minerals that plant foods contain. But when we eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and keep our body working properly.

Here is a primer in eating healthfully through fresh fruits and vegetables you can find easily at local farms, in markets, or in your own garden:

  • Carotenoids: More than 600 carotenoids provide yellow, orange, and red colors in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids act as antioxidantsin our body, tackling harmful free radicals that damage tissues throughout our body. The types of carotenoids that may have other health benefits include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Bodies convert all of these to vitamin A, which helps keep immune systems working properly, and is needed for eye health. Yellow and orange foods like pumpkins and carrots are good sources of alpha- and beta-carotene. These also contain beta-cryptoxanthin, as do sweet red peppers.
  • Lycopene:This nutrient gives red or pink color to tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer.
  • Luteinand zeaxanthin: These may help protect us from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, two types of eye problems which are common as we age. Good sources of these phytonutrients are greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens.
  • Ellagic Acid: This acid is found in a number of berries and other plant foods, especially strawberries, raspberries and Ellagic acid may help protect against cancerseveral different ways. For example, it may slow the growth of cancer cells and may help our livers neutralize cancer-causing chemicals in our system.
  • Flavonoids: A large number of phytonutrients fall into the flavonoid category, which may help prevent certain types of cancers. They are found in a variety of plant foods. Flavonoids include Catechins, found in green tea; Hesperidin, found in citrus fruits (works as an antioxidant reducing inflammation in the body to help prevent chronic disease); and Quercetin, a flavanol found in apples, berries, kale and onions. These are thought to help reduce risk of asthma, certain types of cancer, and coronary heart disease.
  • Resveratrol: Found in grapes, purple grape juice and red wine, resveratrol acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It’s believed to help in reducing heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Glucosinolates: These chemicals give vegetables their distinctive odor and flavor. They are typically found in cruciferous vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and broccoli. The glucosinolates turn into other chemicals during the cooking process and while we digest these foods. These chemicals may help hold in check the development and growth of cancer.
  • Phytoestrogens: Because of their structure, phytoestrogens can exert estrogen-like effects. They also can block the effects of natural supplies of estrogen. Soy foods contain isoflavones – a type of phytoestrogen – and have been linked to lower risk of endometrial cancer and bone loss in women. Our bodies also convert lignans, another type of phytonutrient, into chemicals with some estrogen-like effects. Two especially good sources of lignans are flaxseeds and Sesame seeds.

Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content. Additionally, buying locally sustains our State’s farmers, supports the economy and helps remind us about the importance of understanding food sources and nutritional value.

 


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!