We try to explain miracles to our kids when you can just have them plant a garden.

Imagine that miracle, every night. Produce picked straight from your own garden. Organic, seasonal and fresh. Studies show that eating this way (aside from the emotional and spiritual benefits from growing your own food) delivers more nutrients, means tastier produce, is a money saver and limits our exposure to toxic pesticides and chemicals. But, for many of us, this isn’t our reality. So what can we do if we can’t grow our own food or purchase organic all of the time? Below are some purchasing tips and cooking ideas to ensure you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to buying and eating fruits and vegetables.

Eat seasonal, local produce.

Strawberries for your cheesecake, cabbage for the coleslaw? Sure, the supermarket has them on the shelf whenever you need them,  but was it always this way? With the year round access to fruit and vegetables, the idea of seasonal and locally grown is often lost in translation. Fruits and vegetables are picked weeks or months before they appear on supermarket shelves, sitting in low temperature cold storage to ensure a constant supply all year round. In order to have produce available all year long, food now travels from all around the world. 

It has been found that produce sitting for long periods of time, loses it’s nutritional benefits. Eating foods soon after they are picked will ensure you are getting the maximum nutrients that particular food contains and it tastes extra amazing!  When we pick food, we separate it from it’s nutrient source, so the longer it is separated the less nutrients it delivers. 

Eating seasonally and locally also opens up a whole new conversation we can have with our children about being environmentally responsible citizens. Buying food that doesn’t have to travel as far means we are reducing our environmental impact. Choosing to eat seasonal produce means going without at certain times of the year but also having an abundance at other times.  This abundance also means cheaper prices! Seasonal fruit and vegetables are picked when they are ready and have their full flavours and nutritional qualities in tact. If you can access them from a Farmer’s market you know its local and you are getting something that is almost freshly picked from the tree, full of what nature intended.

Where possible, choose organic. 

Studies show that organic fruit and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants compared to their conventionally grown counterparts.Goodness has not been destroyed by chemicals, which can be heavily sprayed on conventional produce.

I understand that buying organic 100% of the time won’t always be within everyone’s budget. So what to do? When choosing your produce the following Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list is a great guide to show which fruits and vegetables are more or less contaminated with chemical residue compared to others. This way, you can prioritise accordingly.

Please note, although you often come across USA lists, Australian non-organic farming practices are similar to those in America. Thanks to Menopause Centre Australia for the great image.

Correct storage of your produce matters

Our fruit and vegetables are living organisms and once harvested need to be treated with love and care. Storage time of produce varies with species type, variety and how early the produce has been picked. To ensure you are getting bang for your buck with the produce you do buy, the following storage tips can help.

Vegetables

Keep on the bench: root vegetables, onions, pumpkin, garlic, tomatoes (if not too ripe already)

In the fridge: All greens. Kale, chard, silver beet etc. (keep better when wrapped in cloth), carrots, corn, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, cucumber, broccoli, beans, radish, zucchini. Herbs- during summer best in fridge in water

Fruit

Keep on the bench: Bananas, Avocado, Stone fruit (until ripe), citrus fruit, pineapple, watermelon.

So, now that we have purchased and stored our produce correctly, how can we gain optimal goodness that nature has to offer when we cook and serve?

Optimising Goodness

It is true that cooking can destroy nutrients found in our vegetables. But on the flip side, gentle heating can also be beneficial for releasing some nutrients. Heating helps break down the plant fibre, especially in vegetables from the cruciferous family- broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage. Breaking down these hard to digest fibres mean the body is going to be able to absorb the nutrients more easily. Winning!

Certain foods increase their bioavailability of some nutrients through the cooking process. Lycopene found in tomatoes is known to increase when tomatoes are gently heated and betacarotene increases when carrots and sweet potatoes are cooked. To avoid complicating matters, I like to include a mix of easily absorbed raw veggies (think salad veggies- carrot, capsicum, cucumber, beetroot, lettuce) and gently cooked veggies to my daily meals.

When it comes to actual cooking, water soluble vitamins, namely Vitamin C and some minerals are easily lost in cooking, especially when we boil. Studies showed that when broccoli was boiled up to 50% of it’s Vitamin C content was lost. Better ways to prepare are steaming, slow cooking, roasting (especially at lower temperatures for a longer time) and my favourite sautéing. Sautéing is a great way to add some fat to your food and if you add a little broth for liquid, don’t drain it off. You can benefit from all the goodness, even if a little has been lost in the heating process.

Maximising Nutrition

To absorb important fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K from foods they are best paired with a fat which helps dissolve the vitamins and makes them more bioavailable.

Who doesn’t love broccoli with a knob of butter, or a dollop of sour cream on your potato? Adding a drizzle of olive oil onto salads and serving foods with avocado are other ways to ensure you are absorbing these fat soluble vitamins.

The selecting, preparing and cooking of food can be a joyous, mindful and intentional practise. My hope in writing this was to give you a brief guide to maximise the goodness in nature’s gifts. If you feel overwhelmed or still unsure about anything, my food coaching service may be a perfect place to start and I’d love to part of it with you. X