More Bang for Your Buck! A Walk down the Produce Aisle
Submitted by: Madeleine Russell
Edited by: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CD
Come ‘n get your greens! Baby spinach, kale, arugula, spring mix… The large selection of leafy greens in stores makes it easier than ever to get a generous dose of vitamins and minerals. But not every container of spinach, for example, is the same as the next. There are many factors that influence nutrient content. Knowing their impact can help you choose foods wisely!
While growing, greens use sunlight to produce vitamins. But the process doesn’t stop at harvest! Grocery store lighting can boost levels of vitamins C, E, K, and B9 (folate) in leafy greens. One research study found that after nine days, spinach stored under light in the grocery store had a higher concentration of these vitamins than spinach stored in the dark. But it isn’t the same for all nutrients. Vitamin A content decreases under light, so it is best to choose orange and red veggies that are exposed to less light in the store (ex. bell peppers a layer below the surface).
The age of a plant at harvest also determines nutrient content. The younger a plant, the higher its vitamin content will be. Take for example, large kale leaves and baby kale. The smaller leaves grow closer to the top of the plant and receive more sun. So while all kale will be rich in vitamins at harvest, the younger leaves contain more.
How can you make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck? Choose younger greens over the older when you have the option, like a package of “baby” greens instead of a large head of lettuce. Pick containers of greens exposed to the most light. A little insight can help you get the best bang for your buck!
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- Lester GE. Veggie smart: how to preserve vitamins. Nutrition Action Healthletter. October 2012:10-11.
- Lester GE, Makus DJ. Relationship between fresh-packaged spinach leaves exposed to continuous light or dark and bioactive contents: Effects of cultivar, leaf size, and storage duration.J Agric Food Chem. 2010;58:2980-2987.
- Zhan L, Hu J, Ai Z, Pang L, Li Y, Zhu M. Light exposure during storage preserving soluble sugar and L-ascorbic acid content of minimally processed romaine lettuce.Food Chem. 2013;136(1):273-278.