“Eat fresh fruits and veggies! Fresh produce! The fresher the better! Choose fresh over canned and frozen! Canned and frozen has waaaay less nutrients so don’t be gross and eat that crap! You’re dumb and I’m smart,” says everyone all the time.
Well folks, they may in fact be wronger than people who wear white after labor day (I still don’t get why that’s bad btw).
A 2015 article in New Scientist magazine titled, “Empty Calories” just threw a big monkey wrench in the works and could possibly change the way you shop for produce forevaaaarrrr.
In the article, many studies were discussed that sought out truths behind the nutrient content in our food. For example, one tested how the nutritional profile of certain fruits and veggies changes from the moment they’re picked to the moment you pick them up at the store.
Some results/information from the article and studies mentioned:
- Some nutrients, specifically folic acid and vitamin C, begin to degrade the moment the fruit/veggie is picked.
- When broccoli was put through a simulation that mimicked usual transport (film-wrapped and stored at 1°C for seven days, then stored at 15°C like in a grocery store), the broccoli lost “between 71 to 80 percent” of the cancer-fighting glucosinolates (glucosinolates are the very reason we’re always told broccoli is a miracle cancer-fighting food) and about 60 percent of its antioxidants. Holy cow!
- Most produce is picked before it’s ripe so it won’t spoil before reaching the shelves. Tomatoes for instance, are picked unripe and then artificially produced ethylene gas is used to ripen them. Studies have shown this leads to lower levels of antioxidants and flavor.
- Some veggies thrive in the fluorescent lighting of stores (spinach) producing even more nutrients, while others lose nutrients (broccoli and cabbage) under the same lighting.
- Peas can lose half their vitamin C within 48 hours of being picked.
- There is no strong evidence that organically grown produce has more nutrients than conventionally grown produce.
So what the freak does this all mean?
I’ll tells ya what it means…
Fresh Produce From Stores Ain’t Fresh or Ripe
Not only is it not fresh, but it could seriously be lacking in nutrients. Generally, you have no freaking clue where that food came from, and even if you do, you have no clue how long it took to get to the store or how long it has been sitting on the ol’ shelf.
Decades and decades ago, people were mostly eating local foods, available within miles of where they lived. Because, quite literally, the technology just wasn’t in place to allow people to eat foods from far away. If you lived in England, you couldn’t ship pineapples in from Hawaii, fish from the coast of Japan, or queso blanco from Mexico.
So while their options were limited, the food they ate didn’t have a long transit, which could mean they were eating food more nutritionally dense than we do today.
We’re Screwed (Kind of…)
The fact that so much of our produce could be losing anywhere from 5-80 percent of their nutrients could be a HUGE reason why we find it so difficult to eat our fruits and veggies! Why do we choose burgers and fries over a salad? Because they taste better! Some might say we’re just fat jerks who lack willpower and smarts, but that’s not exactly the case.
Becauuuuusssse (and this is REALLY important so pay attention)… Animals (including us) choose foods based on flavor and smell, a lot of the time subconsciously without even knowing about it. This is because our bodies know which nutrients they need and can recognize/remember which foods have those nutrients utilizing our senses.
A perfect example of this is people craving odd foods such as clay and dirt when they’re deficient in iron. You wouldn’t normally choose consciously to eat dirt, but your body forces you to crave it out of necessity. Because while you may think dirt tastes gross, your body knows that dirt is rich in iron. So when I say “flavor and smell” that doesn’t always mean foods that YOU consciously think taste good, it’s what your body remembers as being rich in nutrients.
So why is it so important that our fruit and veggies taste good?
Because most flavors in foods are the product of the nutrients they contain.
A 2006 study found that 20 of the most important flavor compounds in tomatoes all came from nutrients such as omega-3 fats and amino acids.
“Flavor,” says Fred Provenza, a behavioral ecologist and professor emeritus at Utah State, “is the body’s way of identifying important nutrients and remembering what foods they come from.”
So when our food doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, i.e. that poor shipped broccoli head or the unripe tomato, we aren’t attracted to it and we don’t crave it because the flavor is lacking due to lack of nutrients! Perhaps instead we search out calorie-dense foods that smell and taste awesome such as fast foods and processed foods.
And if we force ourselves to eat the “healthy”, gross-tasting veggies, we either don’t enjoy them or we smother them with other calorie-rich foods such as cheese, sugars, butters, etc. Our body then remembers that tomatoes/broccoli=flavorless, nutritionally-lacking grossness, so our bodies scratch those foods off our craving list.
Anyone who has ever tasted a strawberry from a Farmer’s Market or a tomato picked straight off the vine KNOWS how much more delicious those foods are. I, for instance, used to hate strawberries and never craved them until I tasted one from a Farmer’s Market. After eating that strawberry, I suddenly craved them all the time, waiting impatiently for the next time I could purchase them.
So the question really could be:
Is our unhealthy diet the result of poor willpower or instead, our bodies reacting naturally to the lack of nutrients in our “healthy” foods?
So What Can We Do?
Unfortunately, the BEST solutions most people either don’t want to do, can’t do, or can’t afford. And those solutions are to either grow your own fruits and veggies, or purchase your produce at local Farmer’s Markets that are certified.
If you do have the option in your grocery store to purchase local produce, choose local over anything else, even if the local produce isn’t organic for a couple reasons:
- Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it wasn’t shipped a bajillion miles to reach you.
- Again, there is no scientific evidence to date that organic foods are nutritionally equal or superior to non-organic.
- If you’re worried about pesticides, please note that organic farming methods are allowed to use 10 different synthetic pesticides approved by the U.S.D.A… So there’s that.
- Finally, local produce will be nutritionally superior to anything else in the store specifically because they have a much shorter shipping time. Because of this, they’re more likely to be picked when ripe since they don’t have to survive traveling long distances.
But What About Us Poor Folk Or People Without Farmer’s Markets?
Don’t worry people, the future isn’t that bleak for those of you who don’t have access to Farmer’s Markets and/or can’t afford them. There is another option, and it may shock the raspberries out of you… Plus it’s cheap and convenient!
It’s shocking because it goes against everything you’ve been told over the past decade or so. The solution is to walk away from the fresh produce section and instead head to the canned and frozen isles. Stick with me folks, here’s the reason why:
Generally, when produce is ripe or “too ripe” to survive long shipping distances, it is instead canned or frozen. The produce, in its ripest form, is flash-frozen or immediately canned, which means when you eat the produce it’s basically as fresh as the day it was picked. So you’ll actually be getting more nutrients from frozen broccoli as you would buying that beautiful, organic broccoli from the produce section. Crazy huh? IT FLIES IN THE FACE OF ALL NUTRITION LAWS.
If you do purchase canned fruit/veggies, try to avoid added sugars, preservatives, fillings, and added salt. Also look for BPA-free cans (there will be a post about why BPA is suuuper scary).
So how crazy is that? Everything we’ve been told is better for us could actually be causing some issues. Who else here is not surprised???
And I know, frozen fruits and veggies aren’t exactly the best consistency when thawed out. However, frozen fruits in smoothies is a perfect way to get your nutrients in an enjoyable fashion. And stir-fry, soups, curry-dishes, stews, egg-dishes, etc. are all great ways to enjoy frozen veggies.
So why don’t you start small? Purchase a couple bags of frozen veggie stir-fry mix and throw in a protein! BAM. Dinner. Maybe get some frozen broccoli and toss it into your scrambled eggs with onion. Add frozen blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries to your smoothies! Yummmm!
This is actually great news for all of you out there who are concerned about the cost of organic/fresh produce, and also good for you lazy folks who hate all the prep required to cook healthy. How easy is it to dump a bag of frozen and already chopped veggies into your dinner?
If you just make a couple of these tiny tweaks, you’re already making a huge improvement.
So let’s give three cheers to the frozen and canned underdogs of the grocery store!