NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Fabulous Farmers’ Markets: Nutrition and Healthy Summer Fun

ThinkstockPhotos-492361906.jpgOne of my favorite things to do during summer in Indiana is to visit the various farmers’ markets around the Indianapolis area. As a dietitian I am a sucker for the fresh fruits and veggies, but I also love the homemade desserts, candles, pasta, kettle corn, fresh flowers, and other wonderful items you can find.

The Top 5 Reasons to Shop at Your Local Market

Here are my top 5 reasons why visiting your local farmer’s market is a must.

  1. Support the local community. Since the produce is grown and purchased locally, the money remains in the community and stimulates the local economy. Also, when you shop at the farmers’ market you are cutting out the middle man, and the product is generally less expensive than if you purchased it in the grocery store.
  2. Eat foods that are in season. Farmers’ market produce is picked ripe and sold soon after picking. Supermarket produce, on the other hand, can take up to two weeks to travel from the farm to the store, even when it is in season. The produce tastes richer and more flavorful and the nutrients are better retained. This handout for Indiana allows you to see which produce is in season so you can plan ahead for meals and shopping on your next outing. If you don’t live in Indiana, check with your local government websites to see if they have a similar calendar to help you make the best local eating choices.
  3. It’s good for you. The average American eats 4.4 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The current recommendations are 9 servings per day. Picking up multiple servings of fruits and veggies and incorporating them into recipes, meals, and snacks is a great way to get closer to the 9-serving-per-day-goal. This will guarantee you are meeting your recommended vitamin and mineral nutrition requirements, increasing your daily fiber intake, and acquiring cancer-fighting antioxidants. Locally grown produce is also lower in pesticides and chemicals.
  4. You can talk to the farmers who grew the food you are about to eat. You can meet the farmers who grew your food, ask when it was picked, how it was grown, and ways to prepare it. When else do you get the opportunity to learn so much about what you are putting in your mouth?
  5. There is certain to be one that fits your location and schedule. I love being able to go to the local farmers’ market close to work on my lunch break mid-week to grab items to get me through the rest of the week. Saturday mornings it’s off to the farmers’ market closer to my house to purchase goodies for the weekend and first part of the next week. To find out farmers’ markets close to you, check out the Farmers Market Directory on the USDA website.

An Inexpensive Way to Stock Up for Healthy Eating

Whether you are picking up items for tonight’s dinner or for the whole week, the local farmers’ market is an inexpensive, healthy alternative to the grocery store. Try to get there early to get the best variety and options. Not all vendors accept credit cards, so be sure to have cash on hand. Finally, bring along your own reusable grocery bag to put all of your goodies in so it is easier to carry home your fresh, delicious finds.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating summer Indianapolis vegetables antioxidants local eating

Is Chocolate REALLY Good for You? The Nutrition Behind the Treat

ThinkstockPhotos-71264413.jpegYou’ve seen it on the news and read articles in magazines, but is it really true? Can chocolate actually be good for you? Isn’t it too delicious and forbidden to be a food that can help with heart disease? Of course nutrition is confusing and things change all the time about what is good and isn’t so good for you, so what is the deal with chocolate?

The good news is that yes, chocolate is good for you; there have been plenty of studies proving that there are health benefits to chocolate. It does matter, however, how much and what type of chocolate you are consuming. So before you grab that king-size Hershey bar, read below to learn what to do and understand the benefits when it comes to eating chocolate in the appropriate amounts.

The Nutrition Science of Chocolate

The cacao bean, which is the base of chocolate candy, is loaded with nutrients called flavonoids. Flavonoids help protect from environmental toxins and repair damage to the body. They provide antioxidants that help the body resist cell damage from free radicals. The main flavonoids are flavanols, which can reduce blood pressure, improve blood flow, and make blood platelets clot more easily.

ThinkstockPhotos-510580190.jpegCocoa naturally has a very strong taste, so it has to go through many steps to form your favorite type of chocolate. And through this processing many of the flavanols are lost. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed, and therefore have the lowest amount of antioxidants. However, dark chocolate that has undergone minimal processing will have the highest amount of flavonoids. As far as cocoa goes, the best choice is one that hasn’t undergone Dutch processing, which is when they treat it with an alkali to neutralize the natural acidity. (For more about how chocolate is created and how to enjoy it, check out this book.)

Be careful about the type of dark chocolate you choose, though. Typically one that contains over 70% cocoa will give you more of the heart-healthy benefits. And watch out for the extras such as caramel, nougat, and pretzels that are added to the chocolate. Those can add a ton of extra fat and calories to the treat, and are not high in nutritional value.

How Much Chocolate Should You Eat?

There is currently no established serving size for the amount that is healthy for your heart. So the general recommendation is to stick to 1 oz. of dark chocolate per day. This is the equivalent of one square of baking chocolate, 54 chocolate chips, or 6 Hershey’s kisses.

Other Foods Rich in Flavonoids

Dark chocolate isn’t the only way to get in flavonoids, though. They can be found in many foods such as cranberries, apples, onions, peanuts, tea, and red wine. So make sure to enjoy chocolate a few times a week, but also incorporate other foods that have many of the same disease prevention benefits.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: nutrition disease prevention antioxidants chocolate