“Eat your Greens!” How many of us heard this from a parent or grandparent when we were young? The message being delivered to us as children was simple: eating your vegetables made you strong and healthy. Those words now engrained in us passed down knowledge early enough to stay with us for the rest of our lives, but how many of us have such a busy life that we have omitted to pass this pearl of wisdom to our children? I have to put my hand up to that one.
It’s all well and good understanding that vegetables are good for you, but life as a grown-up doesn’t always lend itself to eating as healthy as you could! Our hectic lifestyles don’t leave us with much time to prepare fresh food every day, let alone research exactly what it is that your body needs for certain things. Let’s look at the immune system – It’s obvious that regular physical exercise and a healthy diet strengthen the immune system, but what are the best fresh vegetables to eat to give it that extra boost?
Diets based on fresh or minimally processed foods protect the health of all systems of the body, including the immune system which protects the body from infection due to bacteria, viruses and other microbes. Foods that boost your immune system include:
- Beetroot – try it roasted, use it in risottos or stews, or even grate it raw on meals
- Shiitake mushrooms – they make a beautiful stroganoff and are perfect for stir-fries
- Kale – blend it into fruit smoothies, steam it in butter or add it to casseroles
- Nettle – not commonly eaten, but makes a healthy night-time tea
- Grapefruit – yes, it’s sour! Try eating it with yoghurt and honey for breakfast or blend it with banana to sweeten it up
- Avocado – needs no introduction!
- Leafy greens such as spinach and chard – gently steam them and season to make a wonderful side dish
- Grains, seeds and nuts – mix a selection and eat them as a snack throughout the day
At Greener Greens our customer base includes a high proportion of nutritionists and people managing illness who require fresh, organic, seasonal produce and often a wide range of colourful fruit and vegetables. Whatever their reasons for buying organic produce, it is likely to echo the results of study led by Newcastle University in 2014 which concluded that organically grown crops contain significantly higher concentrations of nutrient-rich antioxidants and lower levels of undesirable cadmium (a toxic heavy metal) and chemicals. This extensive study analysed a larger volume of research than any previous study and concluded that switching to eating organic crops is equivalent to eating one or two additional portions of fruit or vegetables per day!
We all know that different studies often come to opposing conclusions but feedback from our customers makes it plain to us that our often locally grown produce does make a difference to their physical and mental health, as well as taste a whole lot better than produce that they’ve eaten before. So what could the reason be for the higher concentrations of desirable nutrients in organic produce?
Plants obtain nutrients for their own benefit from soil but without bacteria, fungi and other microbes and animals that occur naturally in the soil plants are less able to absorb these essential nutrients. Earthworms are particularly important in converting metals and other nutrients into plant friendly form. Intensification of agriculture and use of pesticides has reduced the presence of bacteria, fungi and animals in soils.
Studies carried out by the Sustainable Soils Alliance indicate that there are more earthworms in organic soil. As a result organic soil is more porous (which helps plant root penetration and drainage and reduces soil erosion) and has a greater soil organic matter from broken down leaves and plant roots.
Declining nutritional value of food is evident from records maintained in the UK and republished by the government annually. Between 1940 and 1991, commercially grown potatoes lost 47% of copper, 45% of iron and 35% of calcium, with carrots losing even more. Broccoli and tomatoes lost 80% of copper and 75% of their calcium. To put it in perspective – we need to eat 10 tomatoes today to get same nutrients from 1 tomato in 1940, and eating one orange in 1940 would have given us the same nutrients as eight oranges today!
Whilst this research is shocking, it’s worth noting that farming methods are now starting to improve again with the resurgence of small-scale, local and organic farms. These are the farms that we champion and work tirelessly to ensure that their produce can reach as many people as possible – meaning that it’s not as hard to eat truly healthy veg as you might think. So go on, make Grandma proud, eat your greens!