When talking with your patients about nutrition are you making them aware of the impact on their health of ingesting vegetables treated with pesticides and even buying organic? Do they really have enough information to make an educated decision about the nutritional value of our vegetables, even those labeled organic, by the time it reaches the dinner plate?
There are many factors that contribute to the nutritional content of vegetables so help them keep this in mind the next time they read the nutritional information on a label. The way to know the nutritional value of a vegetable has been maximized is to know the source and the lifecycle of that vegetable. One hundred years ago when vegetables were grown locally, this was an easy task. It is quite a bit more complex today as a particular vegetable could have been picked before it was ripened, traveled thousands of miles in a truck without humidity and temperature control over several days, just to sit on a grocery store shelf for three to five days before being purchased. That same vegetable can then sit in the refrigerator for another three to seven days before being consumed. These are all factors that contribute to the overall nutrient content of vegetables. Can the consumer really trust what's on a label?
In addition, organic vegetables purchased from the grocery store are typically treated with organic pesticides that have been approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). The list of approved pesticides are deemed organic because they are plant based chemicals. However, recent studies show that up to 50 percent of plant based organic pesticides are carcinogenic as well. Growing vegetables by using organic practices without the use of pesticides is the safest way to grow and consume vegetables.
Many other factors also affect the nutrient content of vegetables including the variety of vegetable, growing conditions, post-harvest handling, preservation, and home preparation. Ensuring the variety of vegetable selected for a region meets the growing requirements for the region is step one. Then growing the vegetable in nutrient rich soil with the proper exposure to the sun and water creates a healthy plant that will thrive and meet its optimum nutritional potential.
A vegetable should also be harvested when it is ripe to achieve the highest level of nutrient and anti-oxidant content. Frequently vegetables are harvested before they are ripe so they can be shipped and then artificially ripened before being put on grocery store shelves. The vegetables are artificially ripened by exposing them to propylene or ethylene, which are chemicals produced by plants to induce their own ripening. This impacts the flavor and of the vegetables. This process also inhibits the vegetables ability to reach its peak ripeness and nutritional value.
Uncooked fruits and vegetables eaten soon after harvest have the highest nutrient content. Blanching and canning can cause nutrition loss to heat-sensitive vitamins. Canned and dried food can lose nutrition due to high temperature exposure and frozen food due to temperature luxation. Vegetables are typically frozen shortly after being harvested, which largely preserves the nutritional content of the vegetable, at that time. When considering other factors, freezing vegetables can lead to a higher nutritional value of the vegetables at time of consumption, as opposed to those on grocery store shelves. This process will typically sacrifice the fresh taste of the vegetables.
Since each vegetable in a grocery store typically has a different source, it is nearly impossible to know what that vegetable has experienced on the way to the dinner table and how that journey has impacted the nutritional content. The goal is to get the most nutrition and anti-oxidant content from vegetables at the time of consumption.
An option to ensure that vegetables are grown and treated in a manner to support the highest possible of nutritional content, without the use of pesticides, and an optimum flavor profile is to grow your own vegetables. Growing your own vegetables by traditional means can require daily attention as well as a great deal of education on overcoming the challenges of gardening in Florida.
Understanding where your vegetables came from and what they have been through on the way to your dinner table is nearly an impossible task. If this is takes too much time, effort and uncertainty consider encouraging patients to grow their own vegetables. Fortunately, there are now, low-maintenance options for growing your own vegetables. There are local businesses that will setup and plant a backyard garden as well as offer a garden service while educating the consumer on how to grow their own vegetables with a self-sufficient supply of vegetables.
If the taste and nutritional value of fresh, organically grown vegetables is important, then vegetables should be eaten the same day they are harvested, whenever possible. This quality of vegetable cannot be purchased in a grocery store. The only way to know if this is true, is to experience fresh vegetables and draw a conclusion based on one's own experience. Be careful however, experiencing the superior taste of freshly picked, organically grown vegetables raises the bar and grocery-store-bought vegetables will never be the same.
Amber Harmon is a Master Gardener; she has a 15-year career in technology with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science and an Executive MBA from UCF. She has left her career in technology behind to pursue her passion for educating communities on health and the benefits of true organic vegetables. Amber shares this experience with the community in a low-maintenance vegetable garden for homes and businesses, that fits everyone's busy schedule. Contact her at My Nona's Garden at email@example.com