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Garden Vegetables—More Healthy Than Vegetables From the Market?

Eating a juicy, ripe, red tomato from your backyard garden is healthy and rewarding, but you can get safe, healthy produce from the supermarket, too—not to mention convenience.
IMAGE You're sure that the peas, tomatoes, and zucchini you pick from your own garden are better than their cousins sitting on the shelves at the supermarket. And you're probably right.

Supermarket Produce: Not Homegrown, But Still Nutritious

Supermarkets can't match a home garden for freshness.
Day in and day out, supermarkets offer a variety of fruits and vegetables that most people could never dream of growing at home. Fruits and vegetables produced on an industrial scale are often bred for ease of harvest or stability during transportation rather than taste. Homegrown fruits and vegetables are not bound by these limitations.

Little Loss in Nutrients From Farm to Supermarket

Although some nutrients—vitamin C in particular—are prone to breakdown during the journey from farm to table, the difference in nutrient content between homegrown and supermarket produce is generally small. However, nutrient value and taste are not the same. A food may have the same nutrient content, but it may not be as tasty to the consumer.

Pesticides Well-Controlled

Many consumers are understandably nervous about the potential for toxic pesticide residues on commercially grown produce. While it's true that commercial growers use chemicals to protect crops from agricultural pests, both the pesticides and their application methods are tightly regulated and monitored. Farmers in every state are required by law to undergo training before receiving certification in pesticide application. Agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration have banned many pesticides and do random testing for residues on farm produce.

Genetic Engineering

The issue of genetically engineered food is less clear and people are concerned about implications for health, safety, and the environment. Many processed foods that are already sold in supermarkets are made in part from genetically engineered soy, corn, canola and cotton, but these foods are generally regarded as safe. If you want to totally avoid the influence of genetic engineering, however, you'll have to buy fresh organic produce or grow your own.

"Locally Grown" Is the Best Bet for Freshness

Some supermarket chains give consumers a fresher option by selling locally grown produce in season. It cuts down on the time it takes for the food to travel to the supermarket, reducing food breakdown.

Tips for Getting Safe, Healthy Produce Into Your Diet

There are some steps you can take to increase the amount of fresh, nutritious produce in your diet:
  • Grow things that you like and will be sure to eat.
  • Use toxic substances carefully. Follow instructions exactly on all pesticides and herbicides. Note, however, that adding pesticides and herbicides means the produce is no longer organic.
  • If adding manure, mix it into the soil before planting.
  • If desired, buy seeds and plants from sources that guarantee their products have not been exposed to any pesticides and are not genetically engineered.
  • Go organic: use no pesticides and just pick off, hose off, or use natural methods for bugs, slugs, fungus and the like. In a small garden, you don't need to use the products that a commercial farmer uses.
  • Lead in soil is not considered a big risk with vegetables, but you may wish to follow these recommendations for minimizing danger: Opt for leafy and fruiting produce like lettuce and tomatoes rather than root crops like carrots and potatoes. Locate the garden away from roads and away from old painted structures that might have dropped lead paint chips into the soil. Have soil tested at the local county extension service if in doubt.
  • Don't overdo it with any one fruit or vegetable; buy and eat a variety of items.
  • Buy organic produce if you're concerned about pesticides and genetic engineering.
  • Talk to your supermarket's management and encourage them to seek out and offer locally grown and organically grown choices.
Wash, rinse, or peel all produce even if it looks clean. This will remove residues on the surface. Wash even the rinds of oranges and cantaloupe before cutting or removing them.
Store fresh fruits and vegetables correctly to optimize freshness and taste. Whether your produce came from the store or the backyard, storing it correctly makes a difference in how long it retains freshness and flavor. Learn which items should be stored in the refrigerator, for example, and which should not.
Aside from these tips, one of the more important general tips is one from mom: eat your fruits and vegetables—no matter where you chose to get them. Fruits and veggies should make up half your plate at each meal.

RESOURCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov

United States Department of Agriculture http://www.choosemyplate.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca

References

Growing vegetables in the home garden. United States Department of Agriculture Home and Garden Bulletin website. Available at: http://www.hoptechno.com/book26.htm. Accessed December 24, 2013.

Pesticides and food: what you and your family need to know. Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food/. Updated May 9, 2012. Accessed December 24, 2013.

Storing fresh fruits and vegetables for better taste. University of California at Davis website. Available at: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-1920.pdf. Published 2012. Accessed December 24, 2013.

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