by Selva Wohlgemuth, Co-op News contributor
Selva Wohlgemuth, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist
Dear Nutritionist: What are your favorite early summer produce options and why?
In season, locally grown, and organic fruits and vegetables are no match to the large-scale supermarket varieties. Summer is here and it is time to thrive on the bounty of goods it brings. Visiting the Co-op’s certified organic produce department, or a local farmers market, is a great way to get the biggest bang for your buck. Not only are you supporting the local economy and reducing environmental impact, but you are also getting the most vibrant, nutrient-rich foods possible.
Purchasing freshly harvested produce will ensure the highest quality. Not only can you see the difference, but you can smell and taste the difference too!
Did you know the color and smell of fruits and vegetables is due to their phytonutrient content?
The more vivid in color and the more aromatic a fruit or vegetable, the more concentrated the phytonutrients in the product. Phytonutrients are important compounds that have been found to have a wide variety of positive effects on the human body, including reducing inflammation, aiding in hormone regulation, encouraging the growth of good gut bacteria, and even playing a powerful role in preventing cancer.
Some phytonutrients decrease with food processing and are best consumed raw, while others increase with food processing and are best consumed cooked.
To get the most health benefits out of your summer produce, enjoy a variety of raw and cooked plant foods daily.
I hope you load up on the season’s best local, fresh produce! Remember, every color and every smell offers something special. May the natural beauty of your exciting produce discoveries transform into a delightful and phytonutrient-rich dish to share with friends and family.
Let’s get to know some of summer’s earliest rock stars!
Strawberries & Raspberries
Strawberries are amazing because they are in the top 5 produce items with the highest concentrations of vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a large role in eliminating free radicals and reducing inflammation. Just one cup of strawberries provides 100% of your daily vitamin C needs! Raspberries and strawberries are a rich source of polyphenols—phytonutrients that have far reaching health benefits. Phytonutrients, specifically in raspberries, have been studied for their ability to induce programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancerous cells. These polyphenols increase with each stage of ripeness. The riper the berry, the more intense flavor, and the more health benefits!
TIP: Make sure to buy organic strawberries. Conventional strawberries contain the most pesticides per weight out of any produce item tested by the Environmental Working Group.
Rich in powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, anthocyanins found in cherries have been shown to act similar to NSAID drugs, dampening the inflammatory response within muscle tissue. Furthermore, reductions in serum inflammatory marker CRP (c-reactive protein) were found after two servings of Bing cherries. This is an indication that cherry consumption may help reduce systemic inflammation within the body.
TIP: Anthocyanins are more concentrated in dark and tart cherries.
Dandelion greens, especially raw, are unique because they are one of the richest sources of prebiotics (food for good gut bacteria) called inulin and oligofructose. One cup of chopped raw dandelion greens provides a whopping dose of about 7g inulin and 5g oligofructose. These prebiotics provide fuel to good gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium spp., which produce B vitamins for our absorption and short-chain fatty acids that help fuel colon cells and prevent colon cancer.
TIP: If you cook the dandelion greens the content of prebiotics decreases by a third, but it is easier to eat a larger volume. In Greece, they blanch dandelion greens and then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. So good!
Fresh Herbs (Oregano)
Oregano is one of the most concentrated food sources of polyphenols called flavonoids, with more than four times higher antioxidant activity than blueberries! Plus, it has potent antibacterial properties due to its high concentration of polyphenols. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria like E. coli and parasites like giardia and Blastocystis hominis.
TIP: Since many of the phytonutrients in herbs are fat soluble, make sure to pair fresh or dried herbs with quality oils like extra virgin olive oil for the biggest health punch.
This abundant garden vegetable is not only rich in potassium and fiber, but also rich in phytonutrients shown to have many positive effects including reducing the risk of ulcers, promoting the growth of friendly bacteria, and supporting overall health via anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities. Plus, due to its rich fiber content, it can help balance blood-sugar levels and fuel friendly bacteria in the colon. It’s a win-win situation!
TIP: Turn zucchini into a delicate pasta by using a julienne peeler or spiralizer. Then toss with your favorite pesto or sauté with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.