It’s definitely hard to put a nutrition label on that strawberry – for reasons beyond its compact size.
A single cup of strawberries can provide 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, an essential nutrient. Berries are also a great source for antioxidants to help boost immunity as well as build and repair tissues in the body.
The other day, I actually heard someone say, “I don’t need to buy strawberries because I am taking vitamin supplements.” I am so, so sorry some of us have come to this false logic – and expense!
The complexity of that misunderstood and abandoned strawberry, along with other whole foods of all shapes and sizes, makes it much more difficult to label than a box of cereal. For every essential nutrient, there are nonessential micronutrients, such as phytochemicals and antioxidants. We also have texture (fiber), fuel for the body (carbohydrate, aka fructose) and a structure that helps the body get the most out of that simple food. For some items, minimal processing can even increase access to certain nutrients (tomatoes provide lycopene in high quantity).
When fruits and vegetables are juiced, a great deal of nutritional value is lost. Increased processing and sometimes artificial additives can dramatically change the original healthy product. Some modified foods are “fortified” to return some of what might have originally been present. However, the long-term health benefits of countless other nutrients in whole foods aren’t added through fortification.
Any quality natural food provides fringe benefits that will be edged out when we break down the food to its essential vitamins and nutrients. Researchers continue to discover how micronutrients and our “microbiome” affect health, disease and the longevity of cells. Our bodies are amazingly complex.
Supplements or fortification should be used to fill in gaps that can’t be covered through diet alone. They may be recommended to address diagnosed vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Vitamin D is added to milk, formula, cereals and yogurts.
Foods in their natural state can provide most of the nutrition we require, experts say. Take, for example, oats. Basic old-fashioned oats can be cooked rather quickly (even at this altitude), but some marketing wizard put the oats into individual packages and added sugar, preservatives and spices. Nutrient content dropped and the price increased exponentially.
What about granola or snack/energy bars? Healthy? Not much better than those oatmeal packets. Granola or trail mixes can be laden with sugar, saturated fats and preservatives and contain junk calories, just like the snack bars (aka candy bars).
I marvel at the magic of marketing to take a quality food, modify it, package it and sell it. Whole stores are based on selling healthy people vitamins and minerals to augment a healthy diet “in case” they might be low on a vitamin, mineral or micronutrient. According to National Institute of Health, dietary supplements are a $37 billion a year business. This is despite evidence that they are not effective in preventing or slowing the progression of chronic (or even acute) disease and actually could be harmful.
We each hope to live a long, healthy life and try to eat healthy 80 percent of the time and, oh yes, exercise. But the question of what is healthy remains loose? I suggest that you spend your time focusing on enjoying food, flavor and health. The nutrients will fall in place.
Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice