Great medicine at your local farmer's market
If your goal is to maintain good health, hightail it down to your local farmers market and try a selection from nature’s medicine chest. Rarely does a week go by without new research showing that the vitamins and minerals and many bioactive compounds in foods provide real medicine for what ails you.
Despite Alaska’s relatively short growing season and cool climate, I am constantly astonished by the variety of high nutrient vegetables and fruits that grow locally. Here are a few Alaska “powerhouse” vegetables and fruits you may want to stock up on this summer.
Strawberries and blueberries
Eating at least three servings of strawberries or blueberries weekly has been shown to decrease heart disease risk. Berries of all kinds, but especially blueberries, lower blood sugar after meals. Wild blueberries contain compounds like those found in cranberries that prevent germs from attaching to mucous membranes. Brain health may also be preserved and even regained with frequent consumption of berries – blueberries help to activate the cells that get rid of toxins in the brain.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and folic acid and a source of ellagitannins that may help prevent some types of cancer. Berries have acids and fibers that support healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Hooray for local berries.
Beets are a source of betaine, a unique antioxidant that lowers the activity of inflammation causing enzymes – lower inflammation can mean fewer autoimmune responses and improved heart health.
Beets are a good source of folate, manganese, potassium, copper and fiber. They are also a rich source of naturally occurring nitrites and use of beet extracts or drinking one cup of beet juice per day has been found to lower blood pressure significantly and improve stamina in athletes. Hooray for beets!
Kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards
The whole family of “crucifers” are loaded with several sources of antioxidant power. They provide significant amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene and isothiocyanates that help eliminate cancer-causing compounds from the body and activate tumor-suppressing genes. Kale tops the chart in lutein and zeaxanthin, which have recently been shown to protect against macular degeneration. Hooray for the cabbage family!
Onions and garlic
Onions are a rich source of a potent antioxidant, quercetin. Quercitin is also found in apples and may be the reason why an “apple a day keeps the doctor away” (two a day does seem to improve health). Quercetin lowers inflammation, promotes the healing of stomach ulcers, stops tumor initiation. Eating onions five times per week may lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 75 percent. Onions are also a source of vitamin C, fiber and folic acid. Garlic and onions also contain allyl-sulfur compounds that decrease inflammation and lower cholesterol.
Hooray for the onion family!
Fresh is best
To get the most benefit from your vegetable and fruit pharmacy, eat them fresh and generally with the lowest heat cooking method possible. Steaming appears the best in some tests. Many but not all of the beneficial compounds are reduced by cooking.
Bring your Quest Card
Seniors who receive Quest Card benefits should be aware that Quest cards may be used at some farmers markets. At these markets, you can double your money, up to the first $20 spent.
For more information on how to use your Quest card at the market, contact the EBT/Quest Helpdesk toll-free at 1-888-620-1111.
For other information on the program, contact Beki Parham at 761-3880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An online list of farmers markets can be found at http://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/Marketing/FarmersMarkets.pdf.
Leslie Shallcross is a registered dietitian and associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in Anchorage. Call her at 786-6313.