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Dining, Seven Days, Farmers Market

Heart-Healthy Season Picks at the Farmers’ Markets

Posted Jan. 27, 2011, 7:04 am

Mirror Staff

When your mother said, “Eat your fruits and vegetables,” she was right. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps keep your heart healthy.

In Santa Monica, our four farmers’ markets make it possible to buy very fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables brought in by local farmers. These markets offer an alternative to the large chain stores, where the produce sometimes can be mass-produced, processed, or shipped in from distant parts of the country or from abroad.

Fruits and vegetables at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets are usually picked 24 hours before coming to market, and they haven’t been treated with anti-browning agents or other chemicals that extend storage life.

“The farmers bring their best to these markets because there’s more competition, and more discerning customers. People here don’t put up with produce that’s not fantastic,” said Laura Avery, supervisor of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets and manager of the Wednesday market on Arizona Avenue often attended by local top chefs for their kitchens.

The sheer variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables on display at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets is a pleasure to see, smell, and taste. Many of the farmers experiment with noncommercial varieties that are difficult to find elsewhere. Importantly for our health, fresh and local produce has had less opportunity for nutrient loss. Here’s a look at some of the heart-healthy produce that’s in season at the markets this time of year:

Leafy Green Vegetables

Eating dark, leafy green vegetables has been associated with good heart health, according to some studies. At the Farmers’ Markets, many hearty winter greens are now in peak season: kale, collard greens, chard, chicory, and spinach. These greens provide nutrients such as Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and iron. Whether you cook them or eat them raw, look for deep, rich color and try some of the different varieties cultivated by the farmers.

Root Vegetables

Vegetables and fruits that are dark in color are thought to be dense in nutrients and minerals. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and potatoes come in a rainbow of colors at the Farmers’ Markets. Celery root and parsnips are flavorful root vegetables that work well in soups and slow-cooked dishes. And don’t throw out the beet greens —they make a delicious salad full of Vitamins A and K.

Cruciferous Vegetables

The cruciferous family of vegetables has been called “super veggies” because of their heart-healthy vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. Now at the Farmers’ Markets you’ll find fresh cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, baby broccoli, cabbage, and romanesco, a type of green, spiraly cauliflower that looks like it came from another planet. But don’t be put off by its stunning appearance — romanesco can be prepared easily, just like broccoli.

Citrus Fruits

Sweet, juicy fruits are a heart-healthy choice for your sweet tooth. “Right now, we’re in the early stages of the winter citrus crop,” said Avery. Citrus fruits contain heart-healthy nutrients such as Vitamin C, potassium, folate, and phytochemicals, and the pectin in their rinds is a good source of fiber. At the markets you’ll find many varieties of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and tangerines. For something different that you likely won’t find at the supermarket, try the cocktail grapefruit — a sweet, floral, juicy hybrid that’s part grapefruit, part orange.

Strawberries

Strawberries also are coming into season and will peak in February, March, and April, when they’re at their most fragrant, sweetest, and juiciest. Gaviota, Albion, Camarosa, and Chandler are strawberry varieties found at the Farmers’ Market — each variety has its own distinctive texture and flavor. Ounce for ounce, strawberries have more Vitamin C than lemons. They’re also a good source of potassium.

Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets

• Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Arizona Avenue and Second Street

• Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on

Arizona Avenue and Third Street

• Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at

Virgina Avenue Park

• Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at

2640 Main Street

Contact the Editor

chris@smmirror.com

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