Eating Fresh in the Winter Cold

Unless you live someplace like California or Florida, eating fresh can be tricky during the winter months, and even in those warm locales, changing seasons still means changing availability of favorite crops. It’s not impossible to keep up your fruit and vegetable rotation in the cold seasons, but it does require some extra knowledge and technique.

Embracing Variety

Most families have a limited range of fruit and vegetable intake, stocking up every week with bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, apples and the like. You can find these year-round in most mega-marts because they ship them in from the southern hemisphere — by means that reduce their nutritional benefit. By opening yourself to new experiences, you vastly improve your options for eating fresh.

Some winter-season options to try include brussels sprouts, persimmons, leeks, kiwifruit, beets, guava, kale and most citrus fruits like grapefruits and oranges. You can even buy winter-season cookbooks to help you cook these new options into the most delicious meals possible.

Knowing Your Canned and Frozen Goods

Although not exactly “eating fresh,” it still serves the purpose and can get you through the winter. Many fruits and vegetables retain their nutrition and even taste better when frozen than if picked unripe and shipped long distances — so opt for frozen berries in your smoothie, and frozen broccoli in your stir fry.

On a similar note, a few vegetables are better canned than shipped, including favorites like peas and green beans. Tomatoes are a special case, as the canning process not only preserves the nutrients, but actually releases nutritional value that’s unavailable in the raw form.

Visiting Farmer’s Markets

You probably already hit the local farmer’s market in the summer to get your favorite produce fresh. Winter markets are typically smaller and less crowded, and offer exactly the kind of new produce you need to eat fresh all winter long. Ask the folks in the stalls what those brave, new foods are called, what they’re good for and how to cook them.

Many communities have one or more farming cooperatives in which you can buy shares of a crop. This amounts to a food subscription, where you go every week to pick up your share of whatever the local farmers grew. These are often known as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and can be found around the country. CSA boxes are often the easiest way to eat fresh and local all year ’round.

Getting Tricky

A final option is to grow your own favorite produce under conditions that convince the plant that it’s still summertime. An indoor garden, be it in your garage, a greenhouse, or your windowsill, is one way to do this. By keeping the heat at an elevated temperature, and intensifying light through windows, you create the conditions that get your crops to produce all year long. If you’re up for a real experiment, you can use hydroponics to accomplish the same thing.

Indoor gardening requires extra space and not a little time, but if you do it right you’ll have your favorite fresh produce all year long. Most communities will have a resource, club or similar group to teach you how.

What are some of your favorite ways to cook winter foods? Share your recipes in the comments to help fellow readers make it through to next summer. 

Sources

“Eat, Drink and Be Healthy”, Dr. Walter Willett, et. al., 2002

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20070316/canned-fruits-veggies-healthy-too

Organic Food: Health or Hype?

Fruits and VegetablesLike many consumers, I have a goal when I enter the grocery store: buy healthy foods without breaking the bank. For the most part, choosing nutritious foods is easy. I stock up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nonfat dairy products. But there is one gray area: organic.

Organic foods often cost a good bit more than their conventional counterparts. But are organic products really better for you? And are they really worth the higher price tag? These are questions I ask myself on every grocery store trip.

What Does “Organic” Mean?

Organic foods are made without using conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. The word “organic” means that the product has met certain standards set by the USDA:

100% organic: The food has no artificial ingredients, and can use the organic seal

Organic: The food has at least 95 percent organic ingredients, and can use the organic seal.

Made with organic ingredients: The food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, but it cannot use the organic seal.

Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy with the organic label come from animals that have not received antibiotics or growth hormones.

Farms must meet USDA criteria before they can become certified organic growers. Not all farmers can afford this certification, though. Organic farming practices are more expensive, which is why organic foods come with a higher price tag. If you have any questions about a local farm’s practice, talk to the farmer. He or she can give you more details than any label can.

Better For Health?

Some experts believe that consuming organic foods instead of conventional foods may be healthier, but the results are inconclusive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “makes no claims that organic food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods.”

A large study looked at scientific articles from the past 50 years and compared the nutrient content of organic vs. conventional foods. The researchers found that both organic and conventional products were comparable when it comes to nutrition. And just this month, a Stanford study concluded that eating organic foods over conventional products offers little to no health benefits.

As far as pesticides go, keep in mind that all organic and conventional foods sold in the U.S. don’t exceed government safety thresholds. This means that eating foods grown with pesticides shouldn’t harm your health. Just be sure to rinse all produce under running water before eating it.

Should I Go Organic?

The decision to buy organic foods is a personal one. Know that there’s more to having good nutrition than buying organic or not. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables — whether they be conventional or organic — instead of processed foods is a great way to enhance your health.

If you’re thinking about going organic, the “dirty dozen” is a good place to start. The Environmental Working Group encourages people to choose the organic versions of fruits and vegetables in the dirty dozen because produce on this list has the highest amount of pesticide residue: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries and potatoes.

You can save money on organic products by shopping at local farmers’ markets. Produce and other goods at farmers’ markets tend to cost less than food sold in grocery stores. Eating foods when they are in season in your area can also save money.

Do you buy organic? Why or why not? I’m going to start opting for organic when it comes to the dirty dozen.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442451536

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20120618/apples-again-top-dirty-dozen-list-for-pesticides