The Facts About Local Produce
𝙇𝙤𝙘𝙖𝙡, 𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙡 𝙛𝙧𝙪𝙞𝙩𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙫𝙚𝙜𝙚𝙩𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙚𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙜𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙤𝙥𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨, 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙮𝙥𝙚𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙙𝙪𝙘𝙚 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙚𝙭𝙘𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙘𝙝𝙤𝙞𝙘𝙚𝙨 𝙩𝙤𝙤.
Local and seasonal produce, at farm stands or supermarkets, may be more flavorful and support the local economy, but it’s not necessarily more nutritious.
Throughout the summer and fall, farm stands display locally-grown fruits and vegetables, and supermarkets offer fresh seasonal produce, along with organic, conventional, imported, and frozen selections. Understanding the variables associated with these options may make deciding what to buy a little easier.
Keeping it Close to Home? Locally grown, seasonal produce, whether sold at farm stands, farmers markets, or the local grocer, can be an attractive option. Buying local cuts down on the environmental impact of transportation, and may put money into the local economy, but it does not necessarily impact nutrition. Fruits and vegetables are often picked before they reach peak ripeness—while they are firmer and less likely to be damaged or rot during shipping. Since it doesn’t have to travel far, locally-grown, seasonal produce is often allowed to ripen more fully, which is a big plus for both quality and flavor. Ripeness can impact nutritional value as well, but this doesn’t mean local produce is necessarily more nutritious. “Many factors influence nutrient content, including seed variety, soil, and elevation,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director and senior scientist at Tufts’ Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “Fruits and vegetables can lose nutrients as they sit in transit or on display, particularly if not refrigerated, such as on a farm-stand table.”
Farm stands are not the only place to find local, seasonal options. “Many supermarkets carry local produce, and there are plenty of seasonal choices,” says Lichtenstein. “Produce in supermarkets is temperature controlled, and usually fresh because turnover rates are managed. Seasonal produce at supermarkets is also generally quite affordable.”
𝗢𝗿𝗴𝗮𝗻𝗶𝗰 𝗢𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀: It’s important to understand that not all local food is organic, nor is all organic food local. Some people seek out organic products to avoid potential health and environmental effects of agricultural chemicals, but organics do not have a proven nutritional edge over conventional produce. Organic products are, as a general rule, more expensive than conventional, a factor to consider when making grocery-purchasing decisions. “People who eat more fruits and vegetables have better health outcomes, regardless of whether they choose organic or conventional,” says Lichtenstein.
𝗙𝗼𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗿𝗲𝗲𝘇𝗲𝗿: Local produce bought directly from the farmer, or even from a supermarket, is not always an option. “Frozen produce is an excellent choice because today’s flash freezing technology is used to freeze fruits and vegetables that are picked at peak ripeness,” says Lichtenstein. “Nutrient content is preserved in freezing, and nutrient loss is slowed.” While fresh produce can spoil within just a few days, leading to wasted food and wasted money, frozen food can keep for months while maintaining nutritional quality and, importantly, flavor. Canned and dried fruits and vegetables are also generally good choices, but compare Nutrition Facts labels to choose brands with the least sodium and added sugars.
Don’t let the number of choices make produce purchasing confusing. Follow these tips to up consumption of these health-promoting foods:
-𝗘𝗮𝘁 𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗳𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘃𝗲𝗴𝗲𝘁𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲𝘀…𝗼𝗳 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗱. Local and imported, fresh and frozen, organic and conventional are all good choices.
-𝗨𝘀𝗲 𝗳𝗿𝗲𝘀𝗵 𝘃𝗲𝗴𝗲𝘁𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲𝘀 𝘀𝗼𝗼𝗻 𝗮𝗳𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝗽𝘂𝗿𝗰𝗵𝗮𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗼 𝗺𝗮𝘅𝗶𝗺𝗶𝘇𝗲 𝗻𝘂𝘁𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗽𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗶𝗹𝗮𝗴𝗲. Delicate foods like berries and greens will spoil more quickly. Produce with harder skin, such as carrots, cabbage, and apples, are more durable and last longer at home. Planning can help minimize food waste.
-𝗖𝗵𝗶𝗹𝗹. Produce ripens more quickly when left at room temperature, but, once ripe, getting most types into a refrigerator (or freezer) can help preserve nutrients. A recent study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology focusing on blueberries found that phytochemical content could be largely preserved by low temperature storage (in a refrigerator or freezer). Some produce, however, such as tomatoes and bananas, are better left at room temperature, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
-𝗥𝗶𝗻𝘀𝗲 (𝗷𝘂𝘀𝘁 𝗮𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁) 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴. All produce should be rinsed with clean water before use to reduce risk of foodborne disease and remove pesticide residue. Hard produce can be scrubbed with a brush. Soap and special washes are not recommended. The only exception is pre-washed, bagged, greens, which the CDC recommends not be washed at home.
-𝗞𝗲𝗲𝗽 𝗮 𝗳𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁 𝗯𝗼𝘄𝗹. Having a bowl of fruit visible encourages more fruit intake, but can also lead to waste if the fruit spoils. Try having just a couple pieces of each type of fruit out at any one time (depending on your household size). This can help avoid over-ripening and food waste.
-𝗗𝗼𝗻’𝘁 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝘇𝗲𝗻. Pre-packaged frozen vegetables and fruits are at least as nutritious as fresh, and often less expensive, and they are available year-round.
Source: Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, Oct. 2018
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