This article appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 19 June 2006.
The other day, my husband pointed out that neither of us had a cold last winter. This is quite unusual. He usually gets a doozie of a cold once a year and I might lose a couple days of productive work. As well, I usually suffer a real about of depression come March when it seems that winter will never end. But this year I didn’t feel one iota of blue.
Why not? We didn’t get flu shots. We didn’t take happy pills with our morning oatmeal. So, what changed? In think it was our Saskatchewan diet. For more than a year, we have been making a concerted effort to eat almost exclusively the foods of Saskatchewan at our own dinner table. Could these local foods be better for our health?
Let’s consider vitamin C. Vitamin C reaches maximum levels in fruits and vegetables that ripen on the vine. Over the past winter, we primarily ate Saskatchewan-ripened fruits and vegetables including apples, cherries, saskatoon berries, strawberries, pears, tomatoes and red peppers, maximizing our vitamin C. As well, vitamin and mineral content is highest in foods that are freshly picked, since nutrients diminish with time and processing. We ate Saskatchewan fruits and vegetables when they were in season or quickly froze them for winter freshness.
Studies show that many fresh vegetables from the grocery store have fewer nutrients than they did in the 1960s. This is because commercial varieties have been bred for their uniformity and storability at the expense of nutrients and taste. Local fruit and vegetable growers are more likely to choose plant varieties for their goodness rather than for their ability to look pretty after travelling 2,000 km in the back of a truck.
Many vitamins and minerals boost the immune system so it can fight off germs. These include: vitamin E, abundant in whole grains and canola oil; zinc in meat, eggs and beans; carotenoids in carrots and spinach; and selenium in mushrooms (just to give a few examples).
Omega 3 fatty acids are terrific for fighting depression and disease. They are found in flax, nuts and leafy green plants. Fish that eat seaweed and algae are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. So are wild game, bison and cattle raised on diets of grass, not grain. At our house, we eat almost exclusively pasture-raised or wild meat from Saskatchewan including chickens, beef, bison, moose and fish. We buy eggs from a farmer who lets his chickens peck in the grass. These eggs have way more omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin A than eggs laid by hens kept inside a barn. That vitamin A also helps to fight a cold.
The B vitamins are good for mental health and are found abundantly in the whole grains Saskatchewan is so famous for. Also good for depression are the magnesium in cabbage and folate in lentils. Perhaps all that coleslaw and barley soup we ate this winter were good for my body and my spirit. All this talk about colds has left little room to mention the long-term anti-cancer benefits of saskatoon berries and sour cherries, the healing properties of honey and yogurt, and the cholesterol-lowering advantages of oatmeal. All in all, our Saskatchewan diet didn’t just taste good, it was good for us, too.
Take advantage of the freshest disease-fighting vegetables with this terrific and easy pasta dish. The word ‘primavera’ means ‘first green’ and we can never eat enough of that!
Melt 2 tbsp. and 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pot. Sauté a chopped onion and some chopped garlic. Then toss in a whole bunch of vegetables in bite-sized pieces. For example, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, spinach, snap peas, carrots, sweet peppers and fiddleheads. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook the pasta (I prefer bowties or rotini with this dish). When the vegetables are cooked but still crunchy, toss in the drained pasta along with several chopped tomatoes and a couple tbsp. of chopped fresh herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro. Add more oil if necessary so the pasta is nicely moist, adjust the salt and cook until the tomatoes are warm.