Harvesting Health

No other food source gets as much attention as the vegetable. Moreover, no other food generates such emotion or debate.

With Local Fresh Vegetables

By Pamela Cannoy Kelle, R.D., C.D.E.

The variety of vegetables available at most grocery stores and open-air markets is amazing. Unfortunately, an intense dislike for particular vegetables makes them non-negotiable for some people. Almost everyone has a childhood memory, or perhaps a recent episode with their own child at dinner, where a vegetable was adamantly refused.

“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon,” says writer Doug Larson. Nevertheless, the importance of consuming the recommended daily intake of five servings (2-1/2 cups) of vegetables cannot be debated.

Our ancestors knew the importance of vegetables thousands of years ago in Europe, Asia, and South America. Peruvians consumed red and green peppers over 2,000 years ago. Asparagus was a favorite of Augustus Caesar.

Prior to our understanding of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and nutrient density, vegetable consumption in this country had been limited because the caloric content (or energy) was not adequate to fuel the hard labor of the working class. Today, there is a shift to quality over quantity; the perfect time to shift to a plant-based diet is here and now.

Given the conflicting advice on diet plans today, from Atkins to Weight Watchers, one consistent message remains: eat your veggies. Since no single vegetable contains all the nutrients required for our body to function properly, it is important to include a variety into your diet.

The colors of veggies are derived from chemicals called antioxidants, which are almost exclusively found in plants. Antioxidants are crucial to help shield our bodies from the effects of aging and chemical exposure, as well as other ailments.

Green leaves – whether from cabbage or leaf vegetables such as spinach – are rich sources of vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is essential for eyes and skin, while vitamin C is necessary to maintain healthy connective tissue. Calcium, very important for the bone structure of growing children, and iron, necessary for healthy blood, are also provided by these plants. Other green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, also include some of the B vitamins, a large group of vitamins needed by the body to extract energy from carbohydrates. Peas and beans furnish vitamins from the B group.

The optimum source of vegetables is from fresh local markets or grocery stores. A clear disadvantage of canned or frozen vegetables is the packaging, which makes it impossible to select the best quality. In addition, there is worthy debate about the nutrients lost in manufacturing canned and frozen vegetables. Normally, the higher quality products are the ones you find in the fresh section.

With the best season upon us for fresh-picked vegetables, make sure you take advantage of local resources. “The advantage of buying fresh and local produce is selecting individual vegetables based on appearance,” says Lee Johnson of P&P Produce HS1.09_2in Chattanooga, which offers local vegetables.

Greenlife Grocery is another option for fresh vegetables in Chattanooga. Greenlife is committed to supporting local foods, the local economy, and a healthy environment and community. Greenlife also offers many local and organic produce options.

Recently, a partnership between Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga, the Leadership Chattanooga class of 2009 and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga upper-level Graphic Design students, was formed to increase awareness for local fresh produce. This team of partners is developing the first ever Buy Fresh Buy Local Food Guide to be launched in late April. Called TasteBuds, the guide will list local markets and restaurants that purchase from local farms. Visit www.tastebudsguide.org for more information.

If you are not ready or able to have your own garden, Chattanooga has several cooperative options. Co-ops allow members to enjoy the harvest of local gardens and farms, while sharing in the cost of producing and maintaining the produce.

In the book The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell describes beautifully the “wonderful harmony” between plants and humans as an example of “nature’s wisdom.” Plants provide the most important nutrients and antioxidants we need in life, while at the same time being beautiful and, to most of us at least, delicious.

Pamela Cannoy Kelle, R.D., C.D.E., is a nutrition therapist and registered dietician. She is in private practice in Chattanooga. Pam works with individuals and groups with weight-related issues and diabetes. Her office is located in the historic Southern Saddlery Building at 3085 South Broad Street, Suite J, Chattanooga. She can be reached at 423-752-5207 or at foodcoach@comcast.net.