The Farmer’s Market: Nutritional Benefits
By Jeanette M. Endres, Master Gardener
All over the country, the number of farmer’s markets is increasing. They may offer fruits, vegetables, baked and canned products, meats, as well as homemade soaps and crafts. I know that shopping at the farmer’s market has many advantages. I am supporting the local economy, since most produce grows within 100 miles or less of the market. The farms may be a source of local jobs and help the local economy. Markets support local family farms giving them the valuable capital they need to keep operating and providing consumers an alternative to mass-produced foods. Food is grown locally so that there can be a conservation of fossil fuels. Supermarkets may receive their produce from hundreds or thousands of miles away, consuming fossil fuels for shipping on refrigerated trucks and rail cars. The farmer’s market is a great place to visit with friends and a fun family activity. Some farmer’s markets offer classes, and the Nashville, IL market has a Master Gardener attending once a month to answer questions. As a dietitian and Master Gardener, I like the advantages of shopping at a farmer’s market to purchase fruits and vegetables in peak condition, getting the most nutrients for the dollar.
Natural destroyers of nutrients in fruits and vegetables are heat, light, and oxygen. According to livestrong.com they say, “After picking, fruits and vegetables continue to breathe. This process, respiration, leads to loss of food value, flavor and nutrients. Asparagus, broccoli, peas and sweet corn have a very high respiration rate and will lose nutrition and flavor more quickly than apples, garlic or onions. The longer produce has to breathe before consumed, the less likely it is to retain nutrients. For this reason, food transported long distances is not likely to be as nutritious as food grown and consumed locally.”
At extension.org they post current information on health issues. The most recent states, “A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help maintain a healthy weight and may help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. The nutrients of interest in fruits and vegetables include minerals, vitamins, fiber and phytochemicals. Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections. Vitamin C is important for growth and repair of all body tissues, helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy.”
According to Extension, “All fruits and vegetables are good sources of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. Fiber-containing foods such as vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.”
Phytochemicals are plant chemical compounds that have many potential health-promoting properties. Extension reports that fruits and vegetables have different phytochemicals that provide a variety of benefits. Different colors of fruits and vegetables contain different phytochemicals. The best way to make sure you are getting the maximum benefit from all phytochemicals is to eat a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits.
Tomatoes are a special case since they are very rich in phytochemicals and are best when ripened on the vine. Store-bought tomatoes are often rushed into markets by using ethylene gas. Tomatoes produce this gas naturally since it promotes ripening. To keep tomatoes firm, producers pick green tomatoes. Green tomatoes are then ripened at the production site artificially by exposing them to ethylene gas. The taste is affected, but the gas is harmless. Farmers pick tomatoes within hours of market, and they ripen naturally. Fruits and vegetables from your local farmer’s market are good for you, good for farmers, good for communities and good for the environment.