Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are Today's Fruits and Vegetables Less Nutritious?

Are today's broccoli, carrots and peppers the same as the broccoli, carrots and peppers people ate 50 years ago?  Quite simply the answer is no.  Most of the vegetables you see in the market today have significantly lower amounts of nutrients than produce grown 30 to 40 years ago.  The average amount of nutrients in some fruits and vegetables have been reduced by 50% or more.

Some studies have suggested that the reduction in nutrients has been caused by the farming industry trying to grow larger produce at faster rates.  The increased use of selective breeding to produce larger, hardier breeds of plants along with the use of synthetic fertilizers has reduced the plants abilities to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil.  While they have succeeded in making large beautiful produce they unfortunately have also made less nutritious produce.

Get More Nutrients For Your Dollar

There are ways that you can fight this trend and get produce that has more nutritional value. 

Go for Organic.  By avoiding synthetic fertilizers organic farmers put more stress on their plants causing them to protect themselves by producing larger amounts of phytochemicals which render them more nutritious than their conventionally grown counterparts. 

Look for bold color.  A vegetable that has a richly colored skin is an indication of a higher level of phytochemicals.  For example, a dark orange color in a carrot will indicate higher amounts of beta carotene than in lighter, paler carrots. 

Less can be more.  When shopping don't go for the biggest vegetable in the bin.  It may look healthy but could have fewer nutrients per bite than its smaller counterparts.  Plants have a limited amount of nutrients that they are able to pass on to their produce so the nutrients in a larger piece of produce may be more diluted.  The nutrients in a smaller piece of produce will tend to be more concentrated so you will get more nutrients per bite.

Eat within a week.  Fruits and vegetables start to lose nutrients the second they are separated from the plant so the sooner fresh produce is consumed the better.  Always try to consume fresh fruits and vegetable within a week of buying them. 

Buy from Old McDonald.  Since produce starts losing nutrients immediately after harvest, get your fruits and vegetables from a farmers market whenever possible.  They will be much fresher and more nutritious.

Keep it whole.  Pre-cut and chopped produce is a huge time savor but peeling and chopping causes produce to lose nutrients quickly.  Buy fresh produce and prepare immediately before cooking or eating. 

Eat the ones Grandma ate.  Look for heirloom varieties.  Plants bred prior to WWII, before the development of synthetic fertilizers, will be naturally hardier and more nutritious.

Cook it right.  Pay attention to how you are cooking your vegetables.  The best way to cook vegetables to maintain nutrients is to steam them.  Also cooked vegetables may be more nutritious than raw vegetables.  The gentle heat of steaming softens cell walls to make the nutrients more accessible.

While this trend in growing less nutritious produce is distressing, you can still get healthy fruits and vegetables if you just pay attention and look for the signs of nutrients.  See you at the farmers market.

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