It’s that time of year again when fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant in New Jersey. According to Kelly Varzea, a registered dietitian in the pediatric gastroenterology department for Goryeb Children’s Hospital, “Locally grown food often has greater nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables that are imported are often harvested before they are ripe and are older by the time they get to your plate; the timing of harvest and consumption impacts the content of vitamins and minerals.”
All foods are not created equal and when it comes to healthy eating, superfoods are packed with flavor and nutrition.
“I consider a superfood an environmentally sustainable food, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients,” says Varzea.
Some local superfoods that are at their peak during early spring and summer in New Jersey are asparagus, berries, tomatoes, peaches and peppers. “Asparagus is one of the first crops to be harvested in spring,” says Varzea. “It’s a great source of vitamin K, is high in fiber, and is one of the vegetables that has the highest amount of protein, with about one-half a gram of protein per stalk.”
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are high in vitamin C, as are peaches and tomatoes. “One red pepper contains about double the vitamin C needed in one day. Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a phytonutrient thought to play a role in cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention,” says Varzea.
Varzea recommends eating superfoods raw for a snack. You can roast or grill asparagus, tomatoes and peppers to bring out the flavor. Peaches and berries can be added to yogurt, salads or mashed into a marinade for a natural added sweetness.
For food that is picked at or right before prime ripeness, Varzea recommends visiting a local farmers’ market. “It’s a great family activity because they often have music and activities for kids. They are a great way to introduce your child to a variety of foods. It also teaches them about the work that is needed for the growing and harvesting process that gets the food from the farm onto their plate.”