The Cost of Buying Out-of-Season Fruit and Veg

At supermarkets today we can get most fruits and vegetables all-year round no matter what the season. Convenient, yes, but what are we really getting when we choose to buy out-of-season fruit and veg?

Buying produce that would normally be out of season in our country means that it has either been imported from another country or grown in heated greenhouses. Both processes create carbon emissions, which is bad news for the environment.

Extra Food Miles

In the 1990s the term ‘Food Miles’ was coined by Dr Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University. Food Miles refers to the distance a foodstuff has travelled from the farm to our plate, which is then calculated in terms of impact on the environment.

Food Miles don’t take in to account all the energy and materials used in growing, processing and packaging the food, but it does give us environmental food for thought.

For example, planes that import food generate 177 times more emissions than ships, but whichever way food arrives in our country it is then transported by HGV to the depot and then to the store. The final trip is the one you take to and from the supermarket.

In the UK, the transportation of food alone is responsible for 25% of the distance clocked up by HGVs. Buying food grown in your local area can cut this down dramatically, however this may not always be the case if you buy your local food from a supermarket.

Even food grown down the road from you may have had to travel to the supermarket’s central distribution depot before it comes back again to be put on the shelves in your store.

I am only scratching the surface of the environmental impact of out-of-season foods here, but if you want to know more, the article ‘Food Miles’ by Caroline Stacey on the BBCs Food pages expands on the issue.

Ever-Decreasing Nutrients

Other factors of importing fruit and veg, are the time it takes and the handling and storage that is involved. These can all affect the nutritional content of the food.

From the moment fruit and vegetables are harvested they begin to lose nutrients and taste. You’ll know this yourself if you’ve ever ‘grown your own’.

A carrot eaten minutes after being pulled from the ground is vibrant in colour, smells amazing, is crisp, juicy and full of taste. Each day that that carrot sits in a fridge, box or shelf, affects its quality. Its colour becomes dull as it begins to dry out, it loses its smell and taste, and eventually it becomes bendy. The invisible side-effect of this is the loss of nutrients.

Fruit and veg that has been imported can sit in storage containers, trucks or on supermarket pallets for days and weeks. During this time it can be exposed to oxygen, light and heat, all of which will rob nutrients.

Modified for Transport

Because food can spoil in the transportation process, through bruising from handling and packing, many fruits and vegetables have been modified to help them better survive the journey.

These modification have included thicker skins (which doesn’t do any favours for the taste) and changes to shape and size so they can fit more uniformly into their boxes.

Is it Really so Convenient?

So, yes, supermarkets are convenient, but when it comes to shopping for fruit and vegetables, it’s easy to see how these days more and more of us are stepping back and really starting to think about our choices.

 

Broccoli – the Nutrient Powerhouse

BroccoliWhat Nutrients Are In Broccoli?

Broccoli is a nutritional heavyweight. It packs a punch of 19 nutrients. Eat one serving (one cup) and you will be downing excellent quantities of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid and fibre.

Add to that, very good quantities of manganese, tryptophan, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, phosphorus, magnesium, protein and Omega 3. And good quantities of vitamin B5, iron, calcium, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, zinc and vitamin E. Wow!

Food vs Supplements

Now, if you look at this list and compare it with the average list of nutrients in a multivitamin tablet, it’s a good illustration of why, if you eat the right foods, there’s no need to supplement. And you’ll probably find that buying broccoli is a whole lot cheaper.

Quantity of nutrients is of course an issue. One cup of broccoli (according to The World’s Healthiest Foods) provides 205% of your daily needs of vitamin C, 194% of vitamin K and 45% of vitamin A. The rest of the nutrients range from between 23 and 3% of daily need. But, of course, you are not going to eat the broccoli on its own so any other natural foods you eat with it adds to your cache of nutrients.

Ways to Cook Broccoli to Boost Nutrients

Another thing to bear in mind is how you cook/eat your broccoli. You will get the most benefit from eating it raw and lose the least nutrients from steaming. If you choose to boil it, leave it in the water for only a couple of minutes so it’s still firm and a nice bright green – if you cut the pieces quite small, they cook really quickly. Broccoli can be lovely in stir fries, but again, cut the pieces small and fry for only a few minutes, preferably in olive oil.

A simple way to add extra vitamins, omega oils and phytochemicals to your broccoli – and great taste – is to serve it with your choice of chopped red chilli, raw garlic, almonds, coconut flakes, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds.

Enjoy!

For 10 Tasty Broccoli Recipes click here.

You can get the lowdown on the quantity of nutrients in broccoli at The World’s Healthiest Foods.

 

What to Do with Pak Choi

dec13 Veg boxThis week’s box has: • Potatoes • Turnips • Raw beetroot
• Carrots • Cabbage • Parsnips • Pak choi

The beetroot will definitely get juiced, the parsnips will be made into one of the recipes in my 10 Tasty Parsnip Recipes post and I quite fancy the Honey Creamed Turnips here.

pak choi

What is Pak Choi?

This week’s ‘first’ is the pak choi – also known as bok choy and Chinese cabbage. According to Wikipedia, pak choi is related to the cabbage and belongs to the same vegetable species as the turnip – which I would never have guessed.

All of pak choi is edible, I just cut off and discard the very bottom of the stems. The leaves can be eaten raw in salad or are quick to wilt by steaming, sauteing or stir frying.

The stalks hold their water well, which makes them refreshing to eat. They take a little longer than the leaves to cook, so put them in the pan first.

Pak Choi Recipe Ideas

Today I had half of my pak choi in a stir fry with tofu and any other random thing I could find, including a courgette, half a chilli and some brazil nuts.

If you are looking for a more adventurous recipe, here are some ideas:

What Nutrients Are in Pak Choi?

Pak choi is a very good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin (B2), vitamin B6, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese, and a good source of fibre, protein, thiamin (B1), niacin (B3) and phosphorus.

 

Potato Varieties and Nutrition

Week 47OK, so this week we have: • Potatoes • Cabbage • 7 small raw beetroot
• 3 carrots • 2 parsnips • 1 courgette • 1 red pepper

Potato Varieties

The label on the bag of potatoes tells me that these are locally grown white potatoes called ‘Madeleine’. While I was searching for information on this variety (couldn’t find anything), I discovered a handy chart on the Potato Council website for matching potato varieties to a range of cooking methods.

Click here to find the best varieties for boiling, mashing and roasting, and for salads, jacket potatoes, chips, potato wedges and dauphinoise.

What Nutrients are in Potatoes?

The Potato Council nutrition page shows that potatoes are a good source of: • Vitamin C • Vitamin B1 • Vitamin B6 • Folic acid • Iron and • Potassium.

What’s more, they have higher levels of these nutrients than both rice and pasta, and contain less calories if you are eating them boiled.

2008 is the International Year of the Potato

From the Potato Council website I also discover that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato. Click here for the official IYP website where you are sure to find everything you wanted to know about potatoes but were afraid to ask!

There’s still time to catch a few of the scheduled IYP events, including the Potato Exhibition in Rome (6 Dec–9 Jan 09), the Potato Festival in Russia (10–11 Dec) and the World Potato Congress in New Zealand (22–25 march 09).

Pick-your-own Kitchen Windowsill Salad

One of the surprises in this week’s box is the Living Salads Organic Oriental Mix – otherwise known as my kitchen windowsill salad.

Just Add Water

Growing in a plastic tray filled with compost are four-week old leaves of pak choi, tatsoi mustard and rocket. All I have to do is lightly water it and it could live up to 10 days – although I’m sure I will use it all before then.

Pak choi and tatsoi are Asian greens, which belong to the brassica family, and rocket is thought to originate from southern Europe.

Each has a slight mustard or peppery taste and adds a nice zing to an average plate of pasta or stir fry, and can make most sandwiches much more exciting on the taste buds. You can pretty much throw these leaves into any meal.

A Fresher, Healthier Salad

One thing to remember with all salad, fruit and veg is that from the moment they are picked they start to loose nutrients. Nutritionally, this tray of growing salad is a better option than buying a bag of salad leaves that were picked some time ago and suffocated in a plastic bag.

Salad Nutrients

Salad leaves like these are a great source of vitamin A and folate (also known as vitamin B9 or folic acid). They also contain vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. You can find more on baby salad nutrients here.

Vitamins A, C and E, and zinc are powerful antioxidants, which the body uses to keep its cells healthy by protecting against free radicals*. So these salad leaves not only taste good, they are good news all round.

Grow Your Own

Pick-your-own salad has obvious benefits. This is the freshest way to get your salad leaves, they are bursting with nutrients and they are available right there, on your kitchen windowsill, whenever you want to use them.

But then I start to think . . . why not try growing your own? It doesn’t look like it should be that difficult. I’ve already got the tray – I can reuse the one my Living Salads salad came in – I just need some compost and seeds.

I did an internet search for salad seeds and found an interesting sounding oriental mix on the Suttons Seeds website. For £2.10 (today’s price) you get an average of 850 seeds in the Leaf Salad Spicy Oriental Mix Speedy Seeds packet. The mix contains Mizuna Kyoto, Indian Red Mustard, Yukina Savoy, Sky Rocket, and Golden Streaks Mustard.

Ready in Just 3 Weeks

From sowing, so the website says, the leaves should be ready to eat in just three weeks, and each sowing can give you up to three crops. Hmmm . . . I wonder how many sowings the 850 seeds give you and, although the website says to ‘grow them in the garden or in containers on the patio’, I wonder if you can grow them indoors. It’s definitely worth trying at some point.

* Particles and substances such as air pollution, smoke, alcohol, UV light, pesticides and medications, which can damage the cells and are often quoted in association with disease.

Swede Nutrients

Turnip jack-o-lantern (couldn't find an image of a swede lantern)

The ancient symbol of a damned soul. Turnip jack'o'lantern (couldn't find an image of a swede lantern). Image from Wikipedia.

Oh my word . . . another week, another swede. In fact this week’s box is identical to last weeks with: • Sweetcorn • Potatoes • Cabbage • Onions • Mushrooms • Carrots • More sweeeeeeede!

Swede: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As it’s another small swede I will ‘face the fear and eat it anyway’ – some how, some way. May the force be with me.

In the meantime, as painful as it is, I guess I should try to feel some love for ye olde swede-ee and explore it’s good side.

So does the swede have any good things to offer?

What Nutrients Are in Swede?

According to the website Nutrition Data, swede is a very good source of vitamin C, potassium and manganese, and a good source of fibre, thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

With potassium, calcium and magnesium it has certainly got the electrolytes covered.

Nutrition Data also rate this veg as good for weight loss, which I believe could be true due to the fact that once you’ve cooked it, you don’t want to eat it. Well . . . that’s how it works for me!

A Taste Sensation

What I can’t understand is that one website describes the flavour of swede thus: ‘this creamy, orange-fleshed vegetable has a wonderful nutty, sweet flavour’. Huh?! They are definitely not eating the same swede that I’m eating!

I would describe swede as beige/yellow fleshed with a harsh, earthy/metallic flavour and weighty enough to sink a ship. I wonder if swede inspired the canon ball?

Rutabagas and Pumpkins . . . Now it Gets Interesting

OK, so at this point in my research, I’m not convinced of the swede’s good points. Then I discover that this vegetable carbuncle is also called a ‘rutabaga’, which is a much cooler name!

Furthermore, before pumpkins were grown in the UK and Ireland, swede were carved with faces and used as Jack’o’lanterns on Halloween. In this form they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul.

The ancient symbol of a damned soul . . . now that definitely fits with my experience of swede – they certainly taste like hell!

Please vote in my swede poll – click here.

 

What’s In a Mushroom?

Last night I ate half the punnet of mushrooms in a quinoa mix. I put the quinoa on to simmer then diced the mushrooms and fried them in butter with garlic. When the quinoa was done I mixed in the mushrooms then added a chopped chilli and cubes of avocado. In my usual style, it was created from what I had around at the time and what I thought might go together. And it was very, very tasty.

As nice as standard cup mushrooms are, they don’t really taste of much on their own, so it’s hard to believe that they can be much good for us nutritionally. I decided to find out what the humble standard mushroom really has to offer . . .

So What Nutrients Do Mushroom Contain?

Not only are mushrooms low in calories and fat-free, they are also an important source of B vitamins for those of us who don’t eat meat and according to The Mushroom Council they are ‘the only natural fresh vegetable or fruit with vitamin D’.

It’s not all good news though. If you suffer from fungal or yeast infections you should avoid mushrooms as fungus and yeasty foods can exacerbate the problem.

Here’s the Nutritional Low-down:

• VITAMIN B2 (riboflavin) – helps in the maintenance of healthy red blood cells, fat metabolism and nerve transport.

• VITAMIN B3 (niacin) – promotes healthy skin and helps with fat metabolism and nerve transport.

• VITAMIN B5 (pantothenic acid) – important in the production of hormones, fat metabolism and maintenance of the nervous system.

• VITAMIN D – its major function is to absorb calcium and phosphorus to maintain bones.

• SELENIUM – an antioxidant that helps to protect our cells from damage, also important for immunity, fertility in men and the production of thyroid hormones.

• COPPER – helps to make red blood cells and collagen, carries oxygen and keeps bones and nerves healthy.

• POTASSIUM – maintains fluid and mineral balance, and helps to control blood pressure. Also involved in muscle contraction and nerve transmission.

• ERGOTHIONEINE – an antioxidant, important for immunity and the protection of cells.

It seems that the humble mushroom does have a lot to offer, especially when it comes to vitamin D, and the more antioxidants you can get in your diet the better. So grab a handful and chuck them on your plate, cooked or raw!

(Nutritional information researched from The Mushroom Council and Nutritional Biochemistry, a course book by Premier International for the Diploma in Nutritional Therapy.)

Carrot and Pineapple Juice

Carrot and pineapple juiceI’ve always loved raw carrots, but even I’m a bit carrotted out. This is the seventh week of having a veg box and each week there has been 500g of carrots to munch through. Faced with another bag of carrots, I decide to get the juicer out.

Carrot juice is really sweet, especially if the carrots are fresh – you can really taste the difference if they’re old. Once the carrots are juiced you should drink it quite soon because it will quickly go off, turn a bit brown and get a bit fizzy.

Carrot Juice Recipes

After browsing recipes I come across a combination I haven’t thought of before – carrots with pineapple. Sounds good. I don’t have a fresh pineapple but I do have a small tin of chunks in the cupboard.

I juice the pineapple chunks with a whole batch of carrots (500g – approximately 6 normal-sized carrots). What a fantastic colour this juice is! It smells and tastes good, too. It’s a lot like mangos, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than mango juice.

If you’re juicing non-organic carrots remember to peel them and cut their tops and bottoms off.

The inspiration for this juice came from this carrot-filled site. There are over 20 carrot-and-fruit juices and 10 carrot-and-veg juices to choose from. It’s a carrot-lover’s paradise.

Nutrients in the Juice:

• Carotenoids • Folic acid • Magnesium
• Potassium • Vitamin A • Vitamin C
• Enzymes, including bromelain

Mission Bean Sprout – Nutrients in Sprouted Beans

Beansprouts

Bean sprouts . . . I know they’re good for you, but I’ve never really given them a go before. Now I have two boxes of them to munch through in a week – 454g of sprouting lentils, chick peas, aduki and mung beans.

Bean Sprout Nutrients

All the nutrients that go into making a plant are collected in their seeds. These nutrients burst into life when the seeds begin to sprout, so these boxes of bean sprouts are really packing a punch. The label tells me that the sprouts are ‘nutritious and delicious eaten hot or cold’ and are full of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins.

On further investigation I find that all are a good source of protein and fibre, plus:

• Raw sprouted lentils contain:
very good levels of vitamin C, folic acid and manganese and good levels of thiamin, iron, phosphorus and copper.

• Raw sprouted aduki (or adzuki) beans contain: vitamin A, B, C and E, calcium, iron and niacin.

• Raw sprouted mung beans contain: very good levels of a vitamins C and K, riboflavin, folic acid, copper and manganese, and good levels of thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

• Unsprouted chick peas (garbanzo) contain: very good levels of molybdenum and manganese, and good levels of folic acid, copper, phosphorus, and iron. (I am still looking for reliable information on the nutrients in sprouted chick peas.)

Beans vs Bean Sprouts

Before it sprouts, a bean contains enzyme inhibitors, which prevent it from growing. These enzyme inhibitors also make the beans harder for the body to digest.

As the bean sprouts the enzyme inhibitors are deactivated, which makes the sprouts much easier to digest. This means our bodies can gain more nutritional value from the bean sprouts than the actual beans.

In order to sprout, a bean must have enough energy and nutrients to transform it into a plant so when sprouting occurs the bean is at its nutritional peak. Weight for weight, sprouted beans have a much higher nutritional content.

Random Bean Sprout Stir Fry

For my evening meal I decide to try them hot and opt for a stir fry. As I look for other things to put in the wok, I notice the red cabbage from last week, still in its prime. I chop a third off and shred it. Then I slice up the yellow pepper and some spring onions. I serve the stir fry with egg-fried rice with a splash of soy sauce. It’s a very tasty and colourful meal, and the bean sprouts turn out to be really lovely – a little nutty with a delicate crunch.

Using up random items from my veg box in this way has inadvertently led to me eating a rainbow, something we are told is good for getting a wider range of nutrients into our diet. I would never have bought a red cabbage or a yellow pepper in my regular shop so this has been a good lesson. Both of these veg tasted great so I won’t rule them out again.