The old saying “you eat with your eyes” is never more accurate than when browsing through a farmer’s market. The rainbow of colors and the medley of shapes of fresh produce really is a feast not only for the eyes but also for the rest of the body in regards to good health.
The region of the country determines what foods are available throughout the year. One thing is for certain – buying fruits and vegetables at a farmer’s market is always a wise nutritional choice. But, certain produce stand out a little bit more above the rest, nutritionally speaking. Here are my top five all-star standouts that give nutritional bang for your buck.
1. Asparagus - One of the oldest known vegetables and believed to have come from the coastal regions of eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, asparagus is absolutely brimming with nutrients. It’s a natural, rich source of folate at 134 mcg per ½ cup serving which can help prevent neural tube defects in the pre-conception period of pregnancy. It contains good sources of the B-complex vitamins of thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, along with vitamins C, A and E. Its anti-oxidant power is strong in lutein and glutathione, which help remove harmful free radicals possibly helping to protect and fight against cancer and may help slow the aging process.
2. Blackberries – A sweet, sumptuous summer delight that grows on shrubs known as brambles, this exceptional fruit does not disappoint in its nutritional benefits. With only 62 calories in a one cup serving, they are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber at 7.6 grams in the same serving size. One cup also provides 30 mg of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant helping to counter inflammation and reduce harmful free radicals. The alluring dark blue/purple color indicates its phytochemical composition is truly remarkable – it contains anthocyanins, ellagic acid, cyanidins, and catechins, all of which may fight against aging, cancer, inflammation and neurological diseases.
3. Cherries – Don’t let the size of this dainty red stone fruit fool you. Packed with potassium at 322 mg per cup, this helps to reduce blood pressure and along with the antioxidant quercetin found in cherries, helps keep blood vessels relaxed. Besides eating cherries, drinking tart cherry juice is also beneficial. It contains antioxidants which have been shown in a 2014 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition to reduce post-workout aches and pains in runners. Tart cherry juice also contains melatonin, a hormone that lowers body temperature helping us sleep better at night. Got gout? Eat sweet or tart cherries. A 2012 study examined the relationship of recurrent gout attacks and cherry intake. The results showed that daily consumption of 2 cups of cherries was correlated with a 35% lower risk of gout attacks when compared with no intake of cherries.
4. Red Bell Peppers – This eye-catching crimson beauty is part of the nightshade family of plants. Also known as sweet peppers, they are native to Mexico and other South and Central American regions. A one cup serving contains 190 mg of vitamin C, more than twice the amount found in one orange. Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant necessary for collagen synthesis, a structural protein in the body and in addition it helps support the immune system and boosts iron absorption. Red bell peppers are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid which is a natural fat-soluble pigment that produces the bright red, orange and yellow colors of vegetables. Carotenoids are also important in preventing heart disease by inhibiting the formation of harmful LDL cholesterol. Biting into a red bell pepper will provide an ample supply of vitamin A, a nutrient important in maintaining eye and skin health, supporting bone growth and immunity – one cup of a green bell pepper contains 551 IU (International Units) while red bell peppers contain a whopping 4,666 IU.
5. Spinach – Known as a functional food for its natural abundance of antioxidants and phytochemicals, this leafy-green vegetable is highly recommended for its health promotion and disease prevention attributes. Popeye popularized spinach decades ago by touting its rich iron content, an important mineral for red blood cell production and preventing iron deficiency. Want to protect eyesight by preventing age-related macular degeneration? Eat spinach as it contains a dietary carotenoid known as zea-xanthin helping to safeguard the retinal macula lutea in the eyes. Want strong bones? Spinach leaves are an excellent source of vitamin K, which promotes osteotrophic (bone building) activity in the bones, making bones stronger. Spinach also contains a good amount of the mineral potassium important in controlling blood pressure and heart rate.
This season, let your eyes feast upon the variety of fresh, natural, unprocessed fruits and vegetables found at a local farmer’s market. Not only does consuming more produce have significant health advantages, but it also helps support and promotes local farmers and agriculture in the area. Most farmers markets now accept SNAP and WIC benefits so that everyone can gain from the betterment they have to offer.
ABOUT CHERYL MUSSATTO, REGISTERED DIETITIAN
Cheryl Mussatto has over 30 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings that cover a wide span of nutrition experience. Currently she works as an adjunct professor for two community colleges, Allen Community College in Burlingame and Butler Community College in Council Grove, Kansas teaching two courses, Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. Cheryl also is a contributing author for osagecountyonline.com, an online newspaper and Edietitians, a global free nutritional and health magazine. Her articles for both publications pertain to nutrition topics that cover a diversity of health and nutrition interests for the general public. She is also certified as a health and wellness coach.