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Where to Spend your Produce Dollars

Terry Passano RDN, LDN, CLT –University Dietitian

Stretching food dollars is about more than using coupons and buying in bulk. There is another way to think about getting value from your food dollar and that is by asking what value does your body get? This approach is less about dollars spent and more about how much health value you get for your dollar. By far, the most significant return on your food dollar is in the produce department. Let's take a look and I'll show you where to spend in the produce section.

Fresh, Canned or Frozen?

A mixture of fresh, canned and frozen produce stretches your food dollar and meets the convenience factor. When produce is picked and frozen or canned within a short time of harvest, the nutrition content is close to and sometimes exceeds that of fresh. Fresh produce at the grocery store has traveled to get there, sometimes from very far away. Nutrients are lost during that travel time. We've all seen wilted, browned produce on grocery shelves and in our refrigerators. Don't get me wrong; we want fresh produce from the grocery store, or even better, the farmers market. Just don't overbuy. Use fresh produce in salads and side dishes. Use the frozen or canned in smoothies, dips, slow cooker meals and casseroles. Having frozen and canned produce on hand means you will always have some produce available.

Priority Vegetables

All produce nourishes, but when sticking to a grocery budget, these are your staples for health.

Never Leave the Store Without a Crucifer
When chopped, these versatile vegetables produce sulforaphane. This nutrient gem helps activate a gene that produces some of the best antioxidants our bodies use. They act like a firehose that battles vexing free radicals which can cause us damage when left unchecked.

Cruciferous vegetables include: arugula (rocket), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, horse radish, kale, radishes, rutabaga, watercress

Bring Alliums into Your Kitchen
Alliums include onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives and scallions.

Chances are one or two of these is on your kitchen counter. They may bring a tear to your eye, but they make your insides smile. They are also a powerful source of inflammation-fighting antioxidants due to the quercetin they contain.

Substances such as sulforaphane and quercetin, that promote the activity of genes when consumed, areknown as bioactives.

Beets and Spinach

These colorful veggies contain high levels of the amino acid betaine, which supports heart health and liver function. Spinach and beets have the highest amount, but sweet potatoes are also vegetable sources of betaine.

Buy beets with their leaves still intact when you can. You get a fresher beet and can use the leaves like any other green leafy vegetable. A double bang for your produce buck!


Olives, Berries and Avocado

Yes, olives and avocado are fruits!

Avocados and olives contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They brighten our skin, hair and eyes and support gut and immune health. Choose olives that are fresh and brined.

Get your berries fresh or frozen. Better yet, buy them in season and freeze them yourself! Two potent bioactives, quercetin and catechins, remain active after freezing.

Does this mean you shouldn't bother with good old apples and bananas or your favorite fruit? Or that your basic salad or side of peas is not worth eating? Not at all! Variety is key when it comes to eating. Keep your priority vegetables and fruits on hand and buy fresh seasonal favorites year-round!

The most beneficial fruits and vegetables are those that make it into your body.

Your University Dietitian Nutritionist can tailor a healthful eating plan that is as special as you.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health.