As we head into summer, grocery stores and farmer's markets will be brimming with colorful fruits and vegetables. But while fruits and vegetables are an extremely important part of a heart-healthy diet, if you’re not careful you could end up with more chemicals, and far less nutrition, than you were banking on.
Why Many Fruits and Vegetables Lack Nutrition
These days, many of us live in a nutritional depression. The modern day diets are filled with overly processed foods. Plus, we’re consuming nutrient-poor fruits and vegetables due to the depletion of minerals in our soil. Commercial farming practices, which include replenishing the soil with synthetic fertilizers, have drained the soil of essential elements. The result is fruit and vegetable crops that are significantly less nutritious than they used to be.
In recent years, studies have begun to show that organic produce—which doesn’t use these methods—contains significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals. Organic produce is truly worth the extra money when it comes to your health.
The Best Way to Get Organic Produce Is to Grow Your Own
To ensure that your vegetable garden is truly organic, be sure to select organic seeds or plants. If you’re not sure if the seeds or plants you’re buying are organic, ask. You also want to make sure that the soil and fertilizers you choose are organic as well.
But before starting a garden, you also want to take a good hard look at your home. If you reside in an older home that was ever painted with lead paint—even if those painted wood, shingles, trim, stucco, brick, or what-have-you was covered over with some kind of siding—never plant any edibles in beds next to the house. That means never plant fruit, veggies, herbs, or fruit-bearing trees in the soil near the house known—or suspected—to have been painted with lead-based paint.
Lead can leach out of weathered paint and remain in the soil for a long time. The lead is then absorbed by the plants, which is very dangerous. In the cardiology world, higher levels of lead in the body are associated with high blood pressure levels and an increased risk for heart attack in men. Excess lead in the body can also cause renal failure, and for our children, behavioral problems and more.
If you live in an older home where the soil could be contaminated with lead, or don’t have the time or space to tend to a complete garden, you can consider a container garden. My wife Jan and I grow herbs in one of our south-facing windows and use them throughout the year to garnish our favorite dishes and soups. If you don’t have a backyard, you, too, may be able to grow parsley, garlic, or chives (incredibly nutritious herbs), or even tomatoes, using this technique. But whether you choose to garden, or not, chances are you will also need to purchase organic produce.
When Buying Organic Produce, You Need to Be a Savvy Shopper
Many grocery stores also carry organic produce, in addition to their conventional produce. Organic produce often costs a bit more, but the quality, taste, and nutrition is definitely worth it. But if your food budget doesn’t allow for you to buy all organic produce, prioritize. The highest concentrations of pesticides can be found in strawberries, peaches, and apples. So with those foods, I encourage you to go organic to reduce your toxic load.
Another good way to get organic produce is to visit your local farm stands or farmer’s market. But before you buy, ask the seller about production techniques to make sure the produce is as organic as possible. I also ask if the produce has been sprayed—if so, I won’t buy it. Plus, here are more tips for buying organic produce...
Ask your grocer or the farm stand owner if the produce is non-GMO. Some farm stands and grocery stores mix in GMO produce—so you need to ask.
- If you can find an organic farmer stand to shop at, that’s your best choice. It means the entire crop was grown without pesticides and other chemicals.
- When it comes to produce, less than perfect is better. The less than red apple, or the melon that's not perfectly round and uniform, is often your best choice. If it looks too perfect, chances are it’s not truly natural! Even a stray worm is a good sign, meaning chances are pesticides weren’t used on the crops.
- For the best healthy heart nutrition, you want to fill your basket with a bounty of colorful produce—the more varied, the better. Some of the best heart-healthy choices are tomatoes, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, kale, and cauliflower.
Now it's your turn: Do you buy, or grow, organic produce?
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