Among the conventional words of wisdom we often hear, like “look both ways before you cross the street,” and “get eight hours of sleep every night,” there is one life-saving piece of advice that often goes ignored: “Eat your fruits and veggies.” In fact, a recent survey by Statistics Canada found only 42 per cent of British Columbians eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day — surprising, given that the Canada Food Guide recommends adults eat seven to 10 servings a day.

The reasons to add more produce to our diets are myriad. “For good health it is important to consume a rainbow of colours of vegetables and fruits,” says Kim McQueen, chief mixologist for the nourishing beverage Rumble. “Plant pigments, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals confer health benefits from antioxidant protection, to functioning as anti-inflammatories, to supporting healthy aging, and supporting good energy.”

Here on the Island, there really is no excuse for not meeting the daily quota. Local produce is abundant, affordable, and delicious. And it’s actually nutritionally superior.

“The biological value is strong for something that is grown nearby — it’s more enzymatically alive,” says Carmine Sparanese, general manager of Lifestyle Markets.

Sparanese is a self-described “kid in a candy shop,” when he talks about fall harvest offerings.

But he offers one caveat: “You can grow stuff as locally as you want, but [you] want something that is managed naturally. It’s so important that stuff has not been sprayed on top or chemicals put in the soil.”

Luckily, many farms on the Island have been following organic practices long before it was trendy. So, grab your baskets, head to one of the local farms or markets, and start loading up on these nutritional superstars.

1. Apples
The old cliché about an apple a day is anything but trite. In fact, listing all the health benefits would take up pages. Apples are a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, like pectin, which helps prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing hardening of the arteries and heart disease. Apples are also rich in flavonols and antioxidants, and are linked to the prevention of many cancers, including pancreatic, liver, colon, and breast.
Local: Try hundreds of different varieties at the Salt Spring Apple Festival on September 29, or check out the selection at Lifestyle Markets.


2. Beets
With their rich jewel tones, beets are also a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains, which promote vascular and cardiac health, and protect from liver disease. Beets have also been shown to reduce high blood pressure. McQueen uses beet juice in Rumble for its abundance of phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Local: Check out Dan’s Farm & Country Market in Saanchton, and Haliburton Community Organic Farm at the Hudson Public Market and Moss St. Market.

3. Butternut Squash
“The very thing that gives it that colour, is what gives you so much beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A,” Sparanese of Lifestyle Markets says. A one-cup serving of butternut squash gives four times the daily recommended value of vitamin A. This essential vitamin is important for ocular health, reproduction, and a healthy immune system.
Local: Head to Lifestyle Markets or to Michell Bros. Farm.

4. Cranberries
There have been many recent studies on the cancer-preventing properties of this tart berry, which is often relegated as a side dish for turkey. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth found a compound in cranberries prevented the spread of cancer cells. A recent University of P.E.I. study showed proanthocyanidin, a condensed tannin in cranberries, slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Local: Go on a tour at Yellow Point Cranberries in Ladysmith.

5. Kale
This queen of greens is one of the health boosters packed into Rumble. “Kale is among the most nutritional vegetables, rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” McQueen says.

Its high levels of calcium, vitamins A, C, and K, and minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus have been linked to cancer protection and lowered cholesterol.
Local: Try local grocers and Madrona Farm throughout the fall and winter.

6. Kiwi
This import from New Zealand has been grown commercially on the Island since 1987. Its high vitamin C content, plus its numerous antioxidant compounds, boost the immune system — perfect to help fight off those incoming winter bugs. Kiwi also contains inositol, which is undergoing research for its role in the treatment of depression and regulation of diabetes.
Local: Head to Bailiwick Farm or Oldfield Orchard & Bakery.

7. Persimmons
Exotic fruit trees are becoming more common on the Island and this offering is rich in vitamins A and C, contains calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, and is an even better source of fiber than an apple. Curiously, persimmons are also touted as a hangover cure as they help lower the density of alcohol in the blood.
Local: If you have to have local and can’t wait for Salt Spring Island’s Foxglove Farm’s developing crop to be commercially ready, grow your own with a tree from Dinter Nursery in Duncan.

8. Pumpkin
We know colourful is good, and the bright orange of the pumpkin is the clue signaling its high vitamin A content. This harbinger of Halloween is also high in fiber. And according to McQueen, pumpkin seeds are a valuable source of fatty acids.

“Omega 3 and 6 oils need to be ingested — the body cannot make them. Essential fatty acids can nourish the brain and work as powerful anti-inflammatories.”
Local: Several Peninsula farms host Pumpkinfest events on weekends in October.

9. Sweet Potato
Sparanese’s excitement for local produce is on full display when he talks about this root vegetable. “When you cut into a sweet potato and you see that beautiful colour — it’s loaded with beta-carotene,” he says. It’s also a rich source of the vitamins B6, C, E, and manganese, and sweet potatoes contain twice as much fiber as other potatoes.
Local: Try Terra Nossa Family Farm at the Moss Street Market.

10. Wild Mushrooms
Different ‘shrooms boast different benefits and are being extensively researched for their cancer-fighting properties. Shiitake contain lentinan, which is a natural anti-tumor compound. Chanterelles have anti-microbial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and are high in vitamin C, D, and potassium. Oyster mushrooms are known for their high antioxidant content.
Local: Attend a foraging workshop at Deerholme Farm.

By Athena McKenzie