As a cancer patient, survivor, or even a caregiver, fueling your body with the right nutrients is important for your health, especially during treatment, and beyond. So how do you go about making the right choices? Here in the US, we are faced with millions of food choices available to us every single day. In fact, grocery stores across the country carried an average of 42,214 products in 2014. (1) Here are some tips to think about that may help you navigate your options and eat more healthfully.We are faced with millions of food choices available to us every single day Click To Tweet
First step: Think Plants.
If your diet could use room for improvement, try and work more fresh fruits and vegetables into the mix, regardless of where they are coming from. The first step towards savoring your health is feeding your body with the right food choices.
Stick to healthy servings of vegetables in a variety of colors: dark leafy greens along with red, yellow, orange, and white vegetables. Phytochemicals are the substances found in fruits and vegetables that give them their bright, vibrant colors. You may have even heard of some of these phytochemicals like carotenoids or lycopene, which contribute to the orange and red colors of carrots and tomatoes.Phytochemicals give fruits & veggies their bright, vibrant colors Click To Tweet
Second Step: Eat seasonally.
Even if you do not have access to local food in your area, you can certainly choose to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season during certain times of the year. By doing so, you are more likely to be consuming fresher produce that has not been sitting in warehouse storage. Seasonality of produce varies greatly depending on which part of the country you live in. The spring, summer, and fall are good times of the year when you can choose to eat seasonally.
Epicurious has a great tool that allows you to select the month and click on any state within the US map to see what produce is in season during the given time of the year. It’s likely that the growing season will be dormant in your state during the winter months.
It can be difficult to eat seasonally as sometimes there are limited options available. As it is important to consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors regardless of seasonality, boost your fruit and vegetable intake by choosing frozen options!
Frozen vegetables are often processed immediately after being harvested, at the peak of their nutritional quality. They are also flash-frozen to maintain the majority of their freshness. In the winter months when fewer fresh produce options are available, explore the freezer aisle. With many options to choose from, be sure to avoid vegetables that are packaged in sauce, which will likely contain a great deal of processed fats, sugars, and additives. Frozen food has a fascinating history.
Third Step: Eat Locally
If you have the financial and geographic means of eating locally, this is one of the best ways to boost your nutrient intake from the fruits and vegetables in your diet. How might these vegetables be any different from the ones you find in the grocery store? Well, the conventional produce you find in your grocery store is more than likely being transported over a long distance, sometimes thousands of miles away, during which time they lose some of their nutritional value. Additionally, most commercial produce comes from large, industrial style producers who are using conventional growing methods.
Conventional production methods often ignore the all important aspect of soil quality, and instead, producers apply fertilizers and pesticides onto crops in order to increase growth. This process of crop production ultimately reduces the nutritional content of produce. Smaller, local producers are more likely to use sustainable methods of soil management that help to contribute to improved soil health which will likely produce foods with higher nutrient value. The best way to find out more information, is to ask questions. If you see products advertised as “local” wherever you shop for you food, ask your grocer if they know where it came from and what type of growing methods the farm uses.
If you are interested in eating local, try searching for a farmer’s market or CSA in your area. Farmers markets offer direct access to local produce that has traveled a much shorter distance and will be fresher than what you find in the grocery store. A farmer’s market allows you to buy fresh produce, while a CSA (community supported agriculture) allows you to buy into a share of the crop and pick up fresh produce each week. The money you spend goes directly to the farmer. There is no better way to boost your health and support your local community!
Step Four: Try Growing Your Own!
Growing your own fruits or vegetables can take a lot of work, but as much work as it might take, it can be equally rewarding. For many of us who live in urban areas, growing our own food might be highly limited due to space constraints. However, smaller things such as growing your own herbs can be done from inside, even on your kitchen window sill! No effort is too small to grow your own. Not only does growing your own food make you appreciate the time and effort it takes to support the growth of a small amount of food, but it will bring you closer to where your food comes from than anything else.
Though you might not be able to make it past the first step, at least getting to this point is an accomplishment. Taking control of your diet, especially when you are sick or recovering from treatment, might be the hardest part. If you’ve been able to take control of your diet and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, try to introduce a new seasonal item into your diet. However, do not feel as if you have to eliminate any foods that are not indicated as in-season during a given period. Remember, variety is the strongest tool in your dietary toolbox.
And always remember that feeding your body and your health is the most important priority. Think about eating healthy before you begin to think about how you can boost the quality of the food you eat by purchasing local. Work from the bottom-up, and do not be discouraged. Do what works best for you, and savor it!
- Food Marketing Institute. “Supermarket Research”. Accessed on 12/1/2015 from http://www.fmi.org/research-resources/supermarket-facts.