The health benefits of a simple N.J. farm stand

It’s the harvest season and roadside farm stands will soon be full of locally grown, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. What we eat has long been connected with overall health and there’s no better time of year to boost your consumption of these vitamin and nutrient packed goodies.

This is commentary from the food website JerseyBites.com.

It’s the harvest season and roadside farm stands will soon be full of locally grown, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. What we eat has long been connected with overall health and there’s no better time of year to boost your consumption of these vitamin and nutrient packed goodies.

Eric Spinner, a Certified Nutritional Consultant in Medford, believes the national pandemics of obesity and type 2 Diabetes could both be greatly reduced by widespread changes to diet.

How has produce from New Jersey changed the way you eat?Tell us in the comments below.

“I treat each client individually but would generally recommend incorporating mostly fresh fruits and vegetables,” Spinner said. “Whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and quality proteins from eggs, meats, and fish round out a balanced diet.”

During the summer, fresh produce is readily available from quaint little farm stands along the highways and byways of southern N.J. The ubiquitous simple wooden shelters pop up every few miles. Inside, rough-hewn wooden shelves hold bushel baskets overflowing with a rainbow of gorgeous green and red peppers, glossy zucchini and cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, plums and peaches.

Some are larger operations, more like a small store, but lots of others use the honor system and a lock-box to leave payment for the items you choose. Ask around. Everyone has a favorite spot. To discover your own, try N.J. state highways 206, 30, 322 or one of the county roads that shoot off these main thoroughfares.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website points out that essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in fruits and vegetables help protect us from chronic diseases including stroke, cardiovascular conditions and certain types of cancer. For someone trying to drop a few pounds, substitution is the key. While fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than many other foods, if you eat them in addition to what you usually eat, you’re adding calories and may gain weight. Eat fruits and vegetables instead of other higher-calorie food and you’ll see positive results.

Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), a nonprofit with a mission to increase daily consumption of fruits and vegetables for better health, says to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal leaving the other half for whole grains and protein. Elizabeth Pivonka, a registered dietician and president of PBH explains that phytochemicals, also called phytonutrients or antioxidants, are what make the fruits and vegetables so good for us.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of phytochemicals present in plants,” Pivonka said. “They work together synergistically with vitamins and minerals to protect the plant from the sun and from pests and they similarly protect our bodies,” she explained.

It is Pivonka’s opinion that fruits and vegetables all contain different phytochemicals, making it important to eat a wide variety to gain benefits from as many of the compounds as possible.

“Strive to eat lots of different colors of vegetables, including white vegetables like cauliflower and onions, because phytochemicals can be colorless,” Pivonka said. “Eat the peel whenever possible because phytochemicals contained there can be different from those in the flesh, plus it adds fiber.”

Beta-carotene present in carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach and broccoli benefit the immune system, vision, skin and bones. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, red peppers and watermelon, is linked to prostate and heart health. Collard greens, Brussels sprouts and lettuce contain Lutein and benefit the eyes and heart. Grapes contain Resveratrol for heart health, cancer, lung function and to fight inflammation. Look for red and purple berries to improve blood vessel health.

With some advance planning, you don’t have to say goodbye to healthful eating once cooler weather arrives and the roadside stands are shuttered for winter. Buy extra local produce now while its plentiful and preserve by freezing for use throughout the year. Freezing maintains more nutrients than canning and is simple to do.

Pivonka suggests seeking advice on freezing produce from any university extension website.

 

Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey. They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and anything else that tickles their taste buds.

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