Monday, March 21, 2011
Dig into Your Roots!
I live in northeastern Massachusetts about 15 minutes from the southern New Hampshire border and approximately 30 miles northwest of Boston. We can get snow as early as mid-October and have experienced blizzard conditions as late as April 1st. As I write this today, the first day of spring, it is snowing outside. Our growing season is far more limited than in southern areas of the United States and California, so while vegetables like kale grow through December and peas can be planted while snow still covers the ground in March, many of the vegetables you find being spritzed in the produce section of your average supermarket don’t grow here during the winter months.
And yet, there are a variety of possibilities for winter eating...especially if you enjoy root vegetables like I do.
We joined a winter CSA program this year at the same farm where we enjoyed our spring, summer and fall vegetables. I was excited to continue my adventures eating locally, but I had some questions as well. What would we get and would it be enough to keep things interesting as well as provide a balanced diet.
The winter offering has been a well balanced combination of cuts of meat from animals that have been raised by our farmer as well as squash, beets, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, apples, honey, maple syrup, local artisan cheeses and eggs.
In winter, while snow piles up outside and the temperatures dip down into the teens, I like to keep the house warm and filled with comforting aromas by cooking lots of warming soups and stews or slow roasting larger cuts of meat and/or vegetables. So, our farm offerings have fulfilled my hopes for the season.
However, each time I pass the produce section at my local Whole Foods market on my way to the bulk food aisle to stock up on grains, beans and nuts, I question whether my choice to exclusively eat local produce is adversely impacting our overall health. Shouldn’t I grab a couple of oranges and a head of broccoli just in case?
So, I decided to do a little research.
In order to keep the investigation manageable, I decided to focus on one vegetable, the rutabaga, and one nutrient, Vitamin C. I chose the rutabaga since it was not as familiar to me as a carrot or a beet and I chose Vitamin C since it is believed to be so vital to a healthy immune system.
In case, like me, you’re not as familiar with the rutabaga, here is a little background.
The rutabaga is believed to be the result of a chance hybridization between a wild cabbage and a turnip and is believed to originate from Scandinavia. It looks like a turnip. In fact, until just this week, I thought the rutabaga was a large turnip.
Through my visits to a variety of nutritionally focused Web sites, I confirmed that while leafy greens and citrus fruits are certainly touted as being the best source of vitamin C, rutabagas are also an excellent source. I was also interested to learn that one cup of rutabaga has about the same amount of vitamin C as a large tangerine. In addition to this, because the glycemic load of a rutabaga is lower than a tangerine, a rutabaga is better at regulating blood sugar levels making it a better choice to maintain a healthy weight.
I have to admit that at the end of my nutritional investigation I still don’t feel as if I have a definitive answer to my question about nutrients. However, what I take away from the exercise is that you can’t really compare rutabagas to tangerines anymore than you can compare apples to oranges; they all possess unique qualities. I also suspect that the value of an individual food has more to do with how all of its elements work together within the body as well as its freshness and the way in which it was prepared.
For me, the answer to the question about nutrition is practical good sense: eat a variety of fresh, whole foods -- fresh being the key.
I recognize that I have a bias, I do believe local is the best way to obtain nutrient dense produce. Given the choice between a fresh rutabaga from the farmer down the road or a limpy head of broccoli from outside the New England area, I’ll choose the rutabaga. And with gas prices creeping toward $4.00 per gallon, local seems to be an economically wise choice as well.
If you would like to check out the nutritional content of some of your favorite foods or a fruit or vegetable you are just getting to know, here are some Web sites I found to be very useful:
http://nutritiondata.self.com/ (This site has a tool that allows you to compare one food to another.)