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Our food philosophy series | Choose local and seasonal foods when possible

Principle #3 of our eight-part food philosophy means maximal nutrition and flavour

Green and White Asparagus

At Medcan, we believe that a healthy diet should nourish the body, enhance health and well-being and, at the same time, promote sustainability.

That’s why everything we do when it comes to food and nutrition – recipe development, menu creation, food sourcing, healthy eating education – is guided by our food philosophy, a set of eight key principles.

If you’ve been keeping up with our food philosophy series, you’re already familiar with two of the principles that drive our food decisions. With respect to nutrition and health, we are inspired by the elements of the well-researched, plant-based Mediterranean diet.  Our Annual Health Assessment, corporate catering, retail snacks and meals also emphasize whole and minimally-processed foods. An important third consideration around Medcan’s food is the use of seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible.

3 good reasons to choose seasonal and local ingredients

Eating seasonal and locally grown foods:

(1) Tastes better. They provide maximal flavour and nutrition because in-season fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak of ripeness, they offer maximal flavour and nutrition. The short time from farm to table allows locally grown, seasonal produce to retain vitamin C and B vitamins, nutrients that are susceptible to breakdown when exposed to oxygen, light and heat.

Research conducted in the United States, for example, found that compared to out-of-season broccoli available in grocery stores, in-season broccoli contained twice as much vitamin C.

Out-of-season fruits and vegetables grown on faraway farms are often harvested early, before they’re ripe, and then sprayed with chemicals to speed up ripening during transport. While the produce may look ripe by the time it arrives in the grocery store, it hasn’t had adequate time to accumulate as many nutrients and as much flavour as naturally-ripened produce does.

(2) Adds nutritional variety to your plate. Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables also allows you to include a wider variety of foods and nutrients in your diet. Berries, peaches and melon, in season during the summer, offer a different profile of nutrients, phytochemicals and flavours, for instance, than do apples, squash and beets which are harvested in the fall.

(3) Supports our community and local economy. Eating seasonally also generally means eating locally, which supports local farmers and businesses. Incorporating seasonal, locally-produced foods into menu items, when it’s available, is in keeping with Medcan’s mission to play an active role in the local community as part of its commitment to better health, wellness and quality of life.

Four foods to eat now (or soon!)

Asparagus. Although available year-round, you can’t beat the taste and freshness of locally grown asparagus.  Its short growing season – May and June – means now is the time to add this green vegetable to your menu.

Asparagus is high in fibre, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin (B1), vitamin K and potassium and contains a unique combination of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.

It’s also a leading source of folate, a B vitamin that keeps the DNA in our cells in good repair.  One serving of asparagus (1/2 cup or 6 spears) delivers one-third of a day’s worth of folate (adults need 400 micrograms daily).

Rhubarb. Available now through June, rhubarb is well-known for its signature tart taste. But the vegetable also scores well on the nutrition front.

One cup of cooked rhubarb delivers five grams of fibre and a hefty amount of calcium (348 mg) along with B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. And, thanks to its red stalks, rhubarb also serves up anthocyanins, potent antioxidants thought to guard against cancer and heart disease.

(Rhubarb is also high in natural compounds called oxalates and, as such, should be avoided if you’re at risk for calcium oxalate kidney stones.)

Green peas. June and July are the months to enjoy locally grown green peas. Sweet and tender, green peas are also packed with nutrition.

Along with 4.5 g of fibre, one-half cup of green peas offers plenty of folate, bone-building vitamin K and blood-pressure-regulating magnesium. Green peas are also a decent source of lutein, an antioxidant that guards against cataract and macular degeneration.

Strawberries. If you want berries with flavour, look for local strawberries at farmer’s markets next month. Their juicy sweet taste doesn’t hold a match to the underwhelming flavour of imported strawberries that are available year-round.

One cup of sliced strawberries delivers folate, potassium and a full day’s worth of immune-enhancing vitamin C. Packed with anthocyanins, strawberries are thought to protect brain cells by fighting free radical damage, reducing inflammation and removing toxic proteins that accumulate with age.

Leslie is the author of 12 best-selling books. You can follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD and look for her regular columns in The Globe and Mail.

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