Tips for Eating Healthy and Supporting Local This Summer

It’s open-air market season! Next Sunday begins the outdoor farmers market in Natick, MA, and soon other open-air markets will be popping up around the state. There are so many positive aspects to the buy-local trend. As a registered dietitian, I hear a lot of people talk about eating fresh and supporting local farms, but they also have some important questions.  I’ve listed 5 points below that answer the common questions I hear, summarizing the positive aspects of buying local and a few tips on things to look out for this season.

While you’re wandering through the market, keep in mind…

  • Sight contributes to cravings. As we walk through a terrific farmers market, our craving for greens and fresh fruit increases. It becomes more natural to crave healthy foods.
  • If it’s locally grown, it’s most likely a whole food-straight from their farm to your table. This creates a distance between the consumer and the temptation of highly processed, packaged foods.
  • Most of the time, farm-fresh foods provide a more natural calorie balance and make it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. For example, a sweet potato is healthy and moderate in calories.
  • Foods and nutrients work “synergistically.” Most of the time, isolating nutrients in supplements is not as beneficial as eating that nutrient in the natural form in the food it came from. For example, milk protein consists of whey and casein. Researchers are proving that when we combine the faster absorbed whey with the more slowly absorbed casein, the body repairs and builds muscle faster than by just using isolated whey protein powder.
  • Consider your own values. Good health, supporting local business, protecting the environment, and sustainability are just some of the many reasons to stay committed to making the effort to shop, cook, and eat this way.

But be aware…

  • Just because a food is natural and local, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. For example, “locally grown bacon” still needs to be eaten in moderation.
  • Enjoy and support local bakeries and fine-confection vendors at the farmer’s markets in moderation. Most of the time, their baked goods are fresh, homemade, and made from the heart. This makes them much more tempting than a typical packaged food from the grocery store.
  • Be careful about local, fresh foods that have been processed.  Sweet potato fries are still deep fried potatoes- most of the nutrition is lost in this process and the calories are significantly increased. Try to as many eat foods as possible in their whole, natural form.
  • Look for foods that are PRODUCED locally, not just DISTRIBUTED locally. Distributed is a trick word that is often associated with a non-locally grown food. “Distributed locally” just means that they were grown somewhere else.
  • Even though we would like to shop local and eat fresh foods 100% of the time, this is just about impossible with busy lives and the availability of these foods. Think realistically- shop and eat locally as much as possible, and remember to “gently” share your own tips with friends and family. Then, declare VICTORY!

Jane Polley, MS RD LDN, is a registered dietician and the Nutrition Director at the Longfellow Health Clubs in Natick and Wayland MA. Everyone can reach their personal best by developing healthy, sensible and lasting habits! 

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