Garden Talk: January 7, 2013
From NGA Editors
Tomatoes Help You Stay Healthy
We all know that a ripe tomato, picked fresh from the garden, is one of the tastiest treats around. But a new study bolsters the evidence that including tomatoes in your diet provides excellent health benefits as well.
According to an article on the Science News website, a recent study done in Finland showed that men with high blood levels of lycopene -- the antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes their red color -- are about half as likely as men with low lycopene levels to suffer a stroke. Lycopene has already been demonstrated to have other positive health benefits, including reducing inflammation, reducing cholesterol levels, and preventing blood vessel disease.
Researchers can't say for certain that it is just lycopene alone that is helping to reduce strokes, since tomatoes contain lots of other healthful nutrients. But you certainly can't go wrong adding plenty of tomatoes (and other fruit and vegetables high in lycopene like red peppers, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guavas) to your diet on a regular basis.
To read more about how lycopene in tomatoes may reduce stroke risk, go to: Science News.
Don't Eat Dropped Apples
If you grow apples in your home garden, you may be tempted to collect dropped apples to use for making applesauce, cider, or apple butter. But according to a news release from the University of Illinois (U of I) Extension Service, this is a risky thing to do.
The fallen apples may contain a toxic compound called patulin that is produced by fungi growing on the dropped fruit. The fungi make their way into the fruits through insect damage and bruises. Even heating infected apples will not make them safe for consumption. While heat will kill the living microorgansims, the toxin they produce is heat-stable and will remain in the fruit. And even a small amount of the patulin is considered harmful -- just one teaspoonful in 2 billion gallons of cider exceeds the FDA maximum tolerance level!
U of I Extension Specialist Mosbah Kushad notes that this warning is directed especially at home apple growers since reputable commercial growers are aware of the patulin risk and don't sell or make cider from dropped or rotten apples.
Says James Theuri, U of I Extension small farms educator, "Consumers who have apple trees should absolutely not use apple drops, or bruised, damaged fruits. It's better to be safe than to be sorry. Patulin toxins are highest in moldy apples; the more mold growth, the more patulin toxin."
To read the entire U of I Extension News Release, Go to: Bad Apples May Carry Patulin Toxin.
But Do Eat Sound Apples!
An apple a day may indeed keep the doctor away! In an apple industry-funded study done recently at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and published online in the Journal of Functional Foods, researchers found that healthy, middle-aged adults who ate one apple a day for four weeks had a forty percent reduction in their blood levels of oxidized low-density lipoprotein or LDL -- commonly called "bad cholesterol" -- compared to a control group.
Oxidized LDL promotes inflammation that can lead to tissue damage and hardening of the arteries. So the pronounced reduction of oxidized LDL that resulted from daily apple eating -- similar to the difference found between people with normal coronary arteries versus those with coronary artery disease -- is exciting news. Says lead researcher Robert DiSilvestro, "We got a tremendous effect against LDL being oxidized with just one apple a day for four weeks."
The LDL-busting effect of apples is thought to come from polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in apples, but its delivery in an whole apple seems to be key for the maximum benefit. When study participants were given polyphenol extract in capsules they experienced a similar, but smaller reduction in oxidized LDL levels compared to when they consumed the whole fruit.
DiSilvestro also noted that eating one apple a day was significantly more effective at lowering oxidized LDL levels than some other antioxidants whose health benefits have been widely touted, including green tea, tomato extract, and curcumin, found in the spice turmeric.
To read more about this exciting research, go to: OSU Research News.
Reducing Food Waste
Last time you cleaned out the refrigerator, did a lot of stuff originally intended for your plate end up in the trash? If so, you're not alone. According to a study released in August 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about 40 percent of all the edible food in this country goes to waste. This astounding figure takes into account losses throughout the "farm to fork" supply chain. But even so, the NRDC calculates that the average American tosses out 20 pounds of food -- or $28 to $43 dollars worth -- each month, or the equivalent of $165 billion nationwide.
This is not only a waste of food that could feed people; it comes with some significant environmental consequences as well. Food waste is the single largest component of the solid waste dumped in landfills in this country, and its decomposition accounts for 25 percent of the U.S. emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to NRDC estimates, 25 percent of freshwater use in the U.S. and 4 percent of our domestic oil consumption is used to produce this wasted food, and we spend $750 million a year just to dispose of it.
Opportunities exist for businesses and government to implement strategies for waste reduction on farms, in post-harvest handling, packing, processing, shipping, distribution, and marketing. But there are also ways individual households can help to reduce food waste. Planning meals, buying wisely, avoiding impulse purchases, and preparing only as much as is needed are common sense ways to minimize food waste.
Fruits and vegetables come in at a substantial 35 percent of the food products wasted by the average American in and out of home. Gardeners who grow their own eliminate the waste that occurs in the commercial supply chain, and they can harvest what they need when they need it, making household waste less of an issue. And composting the fruit and vegetable waste you do produce keeps it out of landfills and reduces its negative effect on the climate.