When it comes to the availability of fruits and vegetables in summer, we have an abundance of choice. But if you’re still shopping produce in a grocery store, you might notice that three in-season organic peaches can cost more than a dozen powdered sugar doughnuts.
Cost, according to a recent analysis in JAMA, is one reason the American diet is lacking vital nutrition.
Using the American Heart Association diet guidelines as the standard, the authors set out to discover how well US citizens follow the recommendations. And they noted some improvements during the time span they considered, 1999 to 2012. We’re drinking fewer sugary drinks, for instance, and eating more whole grains.
But before you say, “Yay, us!” you should know there has been no change in produce consumption. None. Zip. Nada.
And when we do eat it, we’re stuck in a rut of our own making. According to the USDA, 59% of the vegetables we ate in 2013 came from just three items: white potatoes, tomatoes (technically a fruit), and lettuce. What’s more, only 21% of those vegetables were eaten as fresh, whole foods. The rest were eaten after some level of processing – frozen, canned, fried, cooked up into thick, sugary condiments.
Our stunted taste for produce diversity is a direct link to chronic diseases of inflammation – gum disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer. There’s a strong correlation between these and diets low in produce and high in processed foods.
While government campaigns encourage us to eat more fruit and vegetable servings, they don’t exactly encourage the idea of diet diversity. That’s may be why many think they’re meeting the requirement by eating French fried potatoes with ketchup on the side.
This lack of diversity plus our fondness for anything cheap, easy, and sugary is sending us straight to our primary doc.
The solution? Replace those hyper-processed products with an array of fresh, whole veg and fruit. Farmer’s markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options, and natural food stores that offer local, sustainable produce can be a great source of whole, unadulterated, foods.
CSA subscriptions and farmer’s markets offer the best chance to get to know who’s growing your food and communicate what’s important to you. Your input can directly impact what foods are grown and what methods are used to grow them.
Unlike subsidized farmers growing corn, wheat and soy, CSA and local market farmers grow a diverse array of vibrant crops filled with nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber. Their produce availability will inform you what’s in season.
Eating food grown close to home, and in season, ensures the most nutritious food available compared to food picked unripe, gassed to ripen, and shipped long distances.
Yet when shopping, we tend to stick with what we know – which is how you end up white potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce. Or nothing but reliable vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, and spinach. Want to shake up your routine? Buy a CSA share. CSAs offer instant diversity in a box: kohlrabi, fennel, turnips, rutabagas…
It’s getting easier to eat closer to home, and you can do it year round if you apply forethought to the season’s bounty. Buy in bulk seasonally when price is low, and you can dehydrate, freeze, or can, often for less than store bought processed foods.
Buying food grown locally makes for a stronger local economy. A muscular economy comes from employing people in your community who spend their earned money in your community.
Local produce grown using environmentally resilient methods supports cleaner air, land, and water right where you and your family eat, sleep, and breathe.
Still crunching numbers when it comes to those organic peaches and that box of doughnuts? Today’s doughnut might be cheap but, ask yourself two questions: What’s the true cost down the line? Are you willing to pay that price?