Eating local produce is a great idea to help support your local farmers and the economy. But is it realistic to choose local fruits and vegetables all winter long in Canada?
As a dietitian, I also encourage people to go for as much variety as possible and to choose fruit and veggies in a rainbow of colours to get a variety of disease-fighting antioxidants. That means including in your diet fruit like red and green grapes, blueberries and more that are out of season during Canadian winters, but can still provide important nutrients.
Having some variety in the fruit you're eating can also help prevent boredom when we don't have much local fruit available. I love apples and pears but can get tired of eating them during our long winters.
My clients often have concerns about buying produce from other countries, because they don't always know what the laws are there around pesticides. Did you know that of the 12 types of produce highest in pesticides, 11 are grown in the United States? It's time to take a closer look at what produce is healthiest and where it comes from.
If you have enjoyed any grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots or blueberries this winter, chances are they were grown in Chile. Chile is the largest exporter of fruit in the Southern Hemisphere. Thanks to its location south of the equator, Chile has the opposite seasons as North America.
This means their fruit is at its peak when ours is at its low point. Importing this fruit makes it possible to have tasty fruit we wouldn't otherwise be able to enjoy.
Blueberries are among the highest food sources of antioxidants. These berries are especially rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants that may help prevent heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, urinary tract infections, joint inflammation and cancer. Blueberries may also help lower inflammation, a common factor seen in chronic diseases.
The antioxidants in blueberries may help promote brain health. In a study of older adults who drank blueberry juice for three months, memory and cognitive function improved.
Did you know grapes are a type of berry? Grapes contain a variety of phytochemicals (plant nutrients) that may help prevent cancer and heart disease. Grapes contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect the eyes from free radical damage, helping to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration, worsening eyesight due to aging.
The polyphenols in grapes may help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure and preventing platelets from building up and blocking blood vessels. Red grapes in particular are rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant celebrated for its heart health benefits. It also helps support the liver in removing harmful chemicals from the body.
A medium peach (about the size of a tennis ball) has only 40 calories and two grams of fibre. Peaches are also a source of vitamins A and C, which act as antioxidants and strengthen the immune system.
Peaches and other stone fruit such as nectarines and plums contain plant chemicals called phenolic compounds that have been shown to reduce overall inflammation in cell studies. Phenolic compounds may also help prevent "lousy" LDL cholesterol from being oxidized, which would reduce heart disease risk.
Choose organic peaches or speak to the farmer at a farmer's market about the pesticides they use.
Consumer Reports has a helpful tool where you can choose a fruit or vegetable and see their recommendation on which country to buy it from. For example, it says that conventionally-grown grapes from Chile are as low in pesticides as organic ones.
When you look up blueberries, blueberries from Chile are on par in terms of pesticide residues with berries grown in Canada and the U.S.
Until recently, Canada required that Chilean fruit such as grapes and blueberries be fumigated with methyl bromide before entering the country in order to control pests. Methyl bromide is linked to increased stomach cancer risk at high doses.
The good news: as of Feb. 1, 2016, Chilean fruit does not need to be fumigated. Instead, grape and blueberry growers will register with Chile's Agriculture and Livestock Service to be certified free from a specific pest called Lobesia botrana (grapevine moth). The fruit will be inspected before it leaves Chile and if the moth is detected, that grower will be taken off of the registry for the rest of the growing season.
How do you find Chilean fruit?
By law, your supermarket has to tell you what country your produce was grown in. You can find out the country of origin in four ways:
1. Produce sticker on the fruit or vegetable.
2. On the package if you are buying produce that comes in a bag, such as bags of apples, bagged or boxed lettuce, frozen fruit or vegetables, or containers of berries.
(Photo credit: 80 Twenty Nutrition).
3. On signs next to the produce at your market or grocery store (not all stores do this).
4. On the box the fruit or vegetable was shipped in.
Do you look for produce from certain countries? Join the discussion on Facebook at 80 Twenty Nutrition.
Christy received compensation from the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association for her time for writing this article. All opinions are 100 per cent her own.
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