Updated: Apr 11
If you walk the produce section of your local supermarket you are likely to see a display of vibrant looking fruits and vegetables. Consumers fill their shopping carts with these items because they know about the health benefits of apples, oranges, kale, spinach and dozens of other farm supplied products.
What is less known to the consumer is the average age of the produce by the time it hits the shelves. Take apples for example. As a trucker, you may have done your best to get those freshly picked apples from the orchard to the supermarket or distribution center as quick as possible to retain their freshness, but did that make a difference?
Fruits ripen during a very short period in the United States (between August and September), so keeping them in the stores for the rest of the year requires that apples be treated with chemicals and kept in cold stage. In a warehouse setting, they often sit at least 9 - 12 months.... and in some cases, apples can be as old as 14 months while waiting to be purchased at the grocery store.
So, what does this aging do to the nutritional benefits?
A University of California study, conducted by Dr. Diane Barrett a food chemist, show that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C - within a week. Some spinach can lose 90 percent within the first 24 hours after harvest.
A Penn State University study found the warmer the temperature, the faster the vitamin degradation. Spinach kept at 39 degrees (normal refrigeration temperature) lost about half of its folate (vitamin B-9) in eight days. At 50 degrees, it took only six days for the spinach to lose half of its folate, and at 68 degrees it took only four days.
“Spinach is prized because of its high nutrient content, particularly folate and carotenoids,” says Penn State food science professor Luke LaBorde.
Despite all this, the average consumer picks out their favorite vegetables, brings them home and cooks them to make that stir-fry dinner they've been planning all week.
A Michigan study says that if vegetables cooked at high temperatures or for long periods of time, heat-sensitive nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin C and folate are more likely to be destroyed. The University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Nutrition compared a variety of fresh, canned and fresh cooked foods and says that vitamin C may be lost during the process of cooking or canning.
As our country has grown over the last 400 years we've created systems to feed the masses that live here in the United States. Our sources of fruits and vegetables not only come from local farms within our communities but commercial plantations thousands of miles away in other countries. And despite how efficient we've become to deliver these products, we can't seem to stop "nature's clock" on the benefits of consuming the harvest we create.
This has caused an epidemic of deficiency.
Our bodies need the nutrients our food naturally creates, but if our system of distribution and processing destroys some of those nutrients we'll need to find them elsewhere.
Taking vitamin supplements can be a first step. Also, supporting and shopping at your locally run farmer's market will not only support farmers in your community, but may provide you with a better and more organic source of nutrition.