The benefits of eating whole foods is being touted from many media sources these days. "Whole foods" is a term used to describe foods that have undergone a minimal amount of processing from the farm to your table. The popular idea is beneficial in so many ways. It benefits your health, the environment, and can support local economies. So how does someone go about decreasing the amount of time and processing it takes to put food on their table?
Buy Local and Organic
The practice of buying local and organic has a lot of benefits. Among them is that it’s environmentally friendly. It supports local farmers who usually use more sustainable farming practices that maintain soil quality better. Healthier soil can improve the nutrient density in foods. Here are several ways you can buy local, organic foods:
1. Direct from the farm
Visit the farms make sure that farmer really is practicing what they preach. Are the cows truly grazing on grass? Buy direct from a farm stand—many farmers operate them. This can reduce the costs to you and ensure that the total of the profits go to the farm.
2. Farmers’ markets
Spring brings with it the opening of many local farmers’ markets. If you can’t go directly to the farm, these are a great option. Many local area farmers gather together at these centralized markets. They are convenient because there’s a variety of produce and meats all in one location. You may pay a bit more than going directly to the farm, but the convenience is often worth it.
3. Delivery services
There are a lot of services that will gather produce from local farms and deliver a selection directly to your door. This is an excellent choice for the busy foodie that has long work hours and can’t get away to visit the farm or the weekend markets. Often, you get whatever’s in season and abundant, so you can get creative about what you make, and try some new fruits and veggies.
4. Grocery stores
Many grocery stores offer locally grown produce and healthier whole food options. They too have become a great resource in the campaign to buy local and minimally processed. But it’s important to be a smart consumer; you might pay more there and know less less about the sources.
This really is so important: If you’re buying packaged foods from the store, read the labels so you know exactly what you’re eating. There really are quite a few convenience foods on the market that are processed about as much as you would "process" them while preparing the meal in your own kitchen. In order to find these gems, read the ingredient lists. The list should be short and understandable. It should be a list of healthy ingredients that you would find in your own kitchen. It shouldn’t look like a list from a chemistry lab report.
Canned vs. Frozen
If you’d like to have the convenience of readily prepped fruits and vegetables, opt for frozen over canned. The practice of freezing produce has improved tremendously over the years. Often, the produce is picked at the peak of freshness and flash frozen. Because flash-freezing freezes the food quickly, it preserves many of the nutrients. There are a few enzymes that are denatured in the process, but for some people with food allergies this actually makes the foods easier to tolerate and digest.
Canned food has a much longer shelf life but the canning process results in lost nutrients. Food safety requires that canning be done at high temperatures, and preservatives are needed to reduce bacterial growth. The high heat results in lost nutrients and often, the preservatives that are added include salt and sugar. These additions reduce the healthy benefits of the produce. There is one glowing exception to the "canning reduces health benefits" rule. That’s canned tomatoes. In the process of heating and canning tomatoes, their lycopene becomes more bioavailable. This pigment that gives tomatoes their beautiful red color can help reduce heart disease and cancer risks.
Consumer demand for healthier, whole food options is resulting in a wide range of shopping options. Exploring some of these options is in itself a fun prospect for a weekend activity. Have fun exploring your options.