Get your family to taste the rainbow
Eating whole food and vegetables grown locally will help keep you healthy
While ‘eating healthy’ sounds great in theory, many parents admit that they struggle to implement the concept in everyday life. According to nutrition experts, though, there are basic eating healthy principles that are not only easy to understand, but actionable.
Eating local is not a fad, but an important aspect to healthy nutrition backed by substantial scientific evidence, said Melissa Snow, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Whole Life Health Care in Newington.
“Locally grown food has a higher nutrient content due to decreased time from harvest to table,” she said. “Over time, the bioactivity of vitamins and minerals decreases in fruits and vegetables due to their delicate nature. In other cases, some locally grown produce is intentionally allowed to mature and ripen longer for improved flavor and texture, which perhaps results in increased bioactivity of nutrients.”
Jen Desrosiers, holistic health and wellness coach and owner of Laney & Lu Café in Exeter, agrees and referred to locally sourced products as being “nutrient dense.”
“No matter how you choose to eat — vegetarian or as a meat-eater — what you want is to eat foods that are packed with the most micronutrients,” she said. “When you purchase kale directly from a farm, for example, it is loaded with a lot more nutrients than kale that might look the same from a supermarket, but took two weeks to get here from somewhere else.”
Noting she works with several local organic farms to source ingredients for Laney & Lu Café, Desrosiers said the “eat local” movement includes much more than the concept of “farm to table.”
“You need to think about ‘seed to table,’” she said. “Organic farmers are not farming vegetables, they are farming the soil.”
According to Heidelberg Farms’ Steve Phillips, an organic landscaper, soil is the key to a healthy life. “There are one billion bacteria in one teaspoon of healthy soil,” he explained. “That’s just the beginning — there are fungi, nematodes and protozoa, too. Knowing how a farmer is farming the soil and where is really important.”
Eating whole foods complements the eat local strategy that Snow said helps to supply all the chemical pathways involved in energy production, hormone balance, immune function, and production of neurotransmitters.
“Optimizing digestion and absorption of nutrients by eating whole, natural foods is essential in providing the building blocks — vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and fatty acids — involved in these pathways,” she said. “Without them, the human body starts to break down, energy production decreases, and weight gain, diabetes, and mental health issues occur.”
Desrosiers said eating whole to some extent equates with eating raw, which is a concept that also supports how she designs her menu. “I don’t exactly promote our menu as raw and whole, but that’s a big part of what we do and what’s happening in a lot of restaurants and cafes,” she said. “Eating raw, whole foods is definitely a big part of eating healthy.”
Echoing sentiments expressed by Snow, Ranan Cohen, a clinical nutritionist at Whole Life Health Care, said eating whole means avoiding as many processed foods as possible.
“Americans love pizza, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and hot dogs, and so on. It is not what is in these foods that is unhealthy, but rather what they lack,” he said. “Namely, processed foods lack sufficient plant chemicals, also known as phytochemicals, which protect us via anti-inflammatory and detoxification action.”
Eat with color
According to Cohen, eating whole often equates with eating colorfully. Deeply colorful fruits and vegetables indicate a richer content of phytochemicals that are thought to work with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
“So many families tend to eat the same things over and over again,” he said. “Adding kiwi, melon, mango, and berries to the usual apple, pear and grapes will create a richer rainbow of color. In the vegetable world, adding winter squash, asparagus and dark-leafed greens such as Swiss chard and beet greens to the usual vegetables in salads, soups and stir-fry will be advantageous.
Desrosiers said she advises her clients to “eat vibrantly,” which she believes is an important lifestyle concept as well as one related to nutrition.
“Eating healthy is just as much a mindset as it is what you eat, which is why I like the concept of ‘vibrant,’” she said. “Colorful foods are vibrant, and for some families that means stepping outside their comfort zone.”
Cohen said colorful foods are also fibrous and can stimulate the growth of probiotic organisms that can contribute to a person’s well-being in multiple ways.
“The concept of prebiotic fiber is a fairly new development in our understanding of good nutrition,” he said. “It’s just another great reason to eat with color.”
How to eat healthy
Desrosiers said she advises people to keep eating healthy simple. “Shop your local farmer year-round,” she said. “Whether they employ organic farming methods or not, you will be getting much more nutrients out of your food.”
When dining out, Desrosiers said parents should not be afraid to have frank conversations with restaurant staff either.
“Ask questions and feel free to work off the menu,” she added. “Choose restaurants that are in alignment with your values. Fundamentally, you should spend just as much time planning your meals as you do your entertainment and be willing to make that financial investment.”
Snow suggests parents make a commitment to eating more vegetables and fruits. She said parents should also invest in a good knife and cutting board and prepare vegetables in different, tasty ways.
“Use the internet or a cookbook like Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen for different ideas,” she said. “Using fresh or dried herbs, olive oil, and lemon juice with your vegetables, either roasted or grilled, enhances the flavor and texture, too.”
She said the after-school hunger period also presents an opportunity to provide kids with raw vegetables and hummus or a healthy dip using yogurt or legumes.
“Along with vegetables, put out other healthy snacks that are more satisfying — like half-a-sandwich and a glass of milk, nuts and fresh fruit, toast with peanut butter or a homemade smoothie with yogurt and fruit,” she said. “Get your kids involved, too — make your own granola or energy bars, smoothies, or healthy muffins.”
Cohen said he tells his clients to follow the concept of “Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen.” Referenced throughout the Internet, this eating tool lists the cleanest and dirtiest fruits and vegetables in terms of low versus high pesticide levels. He also urges people to actively utilize different spices, such as turmeric, garlic, cumin, thyme, oregano and ginger, which are all known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential.
“You can think about cooking as medicine for better health,” he said. “Introducing new flavor profiles into how you cook can promote better health in very practical ways.”