While other growing areas are still recovering from harsh winters, Central Florida’s spring harvest features a virtual salad bowl of healthy crops. Many of these locally grown items are considered among the healthiest foods because of their beneficial nutrients known to help prevent many serious ailments including heart disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Here’s a quick glance at some of the locally grown fresh produce available this season and the best local spots to purchase them, plus a simple recipe to jump-start healthy eating during National Nutrition Month.
LOCAL SPRING HARVEST
Sweet Corn Zellwood’s famous corn is high in fiber and aids in digestion. It provides valuable B vitamins and minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese, and it’s also a good source of antioxidants that promote eye health.
Blueberries Lake County boasts several farms that grow this antioxidant superfood that can lower the risk of heart disease and cancer while improving brain function. Harvesting is typically in April, just in time for the annual Mount Dora Blueberry Festival. These low-calorie berries are an anti-inflammatory food packed with fiber, potassium and manganese, plus vitamins C and K.
Oranges, tangerines and grapefruits Florida citrus provides a healthy source of fiber, vitamin C, thiamine, folate, and antioxidants. The health benefits associated with dietary fiber include improved digestive health, weight loss, and lowered cholesterol.
Mushrooms Just south of Mount Dora, sits Monterey Mushroom Farm which is currently harvesting Portabella, Baby Bella and white varieties. These fibrous fungi are low in calories, yet rich in selenium, copper, and all B vitamins. While mushrooms contain antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory protection, they may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Broccoli & Cauliflower These similar vegetables are high in fiber and contain many of the same nutrients, but broccoli just has more of them. Their high fiber aids in digestive health, while the range of antioxidants in these heart-healthy vegetables help prevent the type of cell damage that can lead to cancer. Broccoli and cauliflower, packed with vitamins, are also sources of potassium, calcium, protein, and folate.
Leafy Greens In addition to being loaded with vitamins and minerals, leafy greens like kale, spinach and collard greens are high in fiber, but low in calories. They also are packed with vitamins K, A and C, as well as antioxidants that reduce the risk of diseases caused by oxidative stress. The numerous health benefits of including leafy greens in your daily diet include reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and mental decline.
Snap beans Like leafy greens, these crisp legumes are also a rich source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folic acid and fiber. Research shows that cooking green beans may increase their beneficial antioxidant content.
Eggplant This low-calorie purple vegetable dishes up fiber, potassium, vitamins C and B-6, and antioxidants that support heart health. Some of its antioxidants are also believed to reduce “bad” cholesterol, help prevent memory loss and be beneficial for eye health, among other health benefits.
“Fresh local produce is healthier for us because fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value within just a few days of harvest,” said Dr. Laura Varich, a Central Florida physician and Mount Dora resident who recently launched The Fresh Physician website, which focuses on improving health through plant-based, whole-food nutrition. “Healthful leafy greens and broccoli are among the ones that suffer the most nutrient degradation, so it’s very beneficial to buy them grown locally.” Varich’s comprehensive site offers research-driven information and consulting services to individuals seeking better health.
WHERE TO BUY LOCAL PRODUCE
The Golden Triangle provides a range of locations to purchase fresh local fruits and vegetables. The biggest venue is the weekly Lake County Farmers Market that happens every Thursday in Eustis at Lake County Fairgrounds. Hometown Market, also in Eustis, also has some seasonal local produce and is open daily. The weekly Renningers Farmers Market and Mount Dora Village Market are also regular sources of fresh local fruits and vegetables. When the local blueberry season hits its stride next month, berry lovers can buy directly from the local farms or during the Mount Dora Blueberry Festival.
This light and refreshing salad recipe was created by Dr. Varch as a celebration of Central Florida's seasonal spring bounty. You can find this recipe and others on the Fresh Physician website.
ORANGE AVOCADO SALAD Mixed lettuces and greens (include kale and thinly sliced red cabbage) Thinly sliced red onion or green onion Orange, sectioned, with sections thickly sliced Avocado, sliced Sliced roasted almonds
Dressing: •2 tablespoons orange juice •2 teaspoons orange zest •1 tablespoon lemon juice •1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard •1 1/2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup •1/4 teaspoon salt •fresh ground black pepper •1/4 cup olive oil
Mix dressing ingredients. Toss desired amount with greens and onions. Top with orange pieces, sliced avocado, and sliced almonds. Hint: Mix it up by adding any of your favorite healthy ingredients (some suggestions are baked tofu, sliced beets, hearts of palm).
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Discover the area's online event calendar here. Also download the area's free mobile app.