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Local farmers’ markets offer healthy options

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MILWAUKEE, WI - Searching for fresh, nutritious food? Want alternatives to everyday ingredients?  To find healthy foods and unique products, you don’t have to look much farther than your “backyard.”
Local farmers’ markets provide less -processed, flavorful produce and other farm-fresh products that can add variety to your diet and keep you on track with healthy choices.  TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, explains the benefits of visiting a local farmers’ market and offers some shopping list ideas.
Reasons to Buy Local
1. It comes direct from the farmer or grower. You can trust that the produce is fresh and learn more about where it comes from.
2. The products haven’t had a long journey. At a farmers’ market, it’s safe to assume that the food hasn’t traveled long distances to get there. This reduces energy consumption to transport them and decreases the time between harvest and consumption.
3. Vendors offer recently harvested produce.  Reducing the time between when the food is picked and when it is consumed helps ensure that the nutrients have been preserved.
4. It supports the local economy. Many markets put a mileage limit on vendors, ensuring that the food is from the area. By purchasing food at a nearby farmers’ market, you are giving money to neighborhood farmers and stimulating the local economy.
5. Farmers and growers are the best resource. As you are making your food choices, take time to talk to local vendors about their products.  Ask them about the growing process and when the food was picked.  Many of them are also a great resource for cooking tips, or recipes.
6. You can try new foods.  A farmers’ market is a great opportunity to learn about foods you’ve never seen and purchase items that will spice up your refrigerator or kitchen pantry. It keeps your meals interesting.
7. They offer seasonal produce. Vendors offer vibrant fruits and vegetables that change with the season. When foods are in season, they are more colorful and flavorful.  At a conventional store, it can be difficult to determine what foods are in season.
Farmer’s Market Shopping List
1. Heirloom Tomatoes - Add variety to a salad or vegetable platter.  Unlike store-bought tomatoes, each heirloom looks and tastes different than the rest. They’re also a great source of numerous vitamins and minerals and contain lycopene, which studies show may lower the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
2. Raw Honey - This is honey in its purest form.  Not only does raw honey contain vitamin B, amino acids, and minerals like iron and potassium, but it also has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
3. Free-Range Eggs - A test by “Mother Earth News” magazine suggests that eggs from grass-fed, free-range chickens, on average, have one-third of the cholesterol and one-fourth of the saturated fat of conventional eggs.  They also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Fresh Herbs - Basil, sage, cilantro, and other spices and herbs are a great way to boost a meal’s flavor without adding calories.  They are also gaining attention for their potential to decrease inflammation, reduce the risk of cancer, fight heart disease, and more.
5. Beets - Beets are a unique source of betaine and folate, nutrients that help protect against heart disease.  Grate raw beets for a colorful addition to a salad or marinate them in lemon juice, olive oil, and fresh herbs.
6. Swiss Chard - Like spinach, Swiss chard is rich with nutrients, including vitamins K, A, and C.  Use boiled Swiss chard in omelets to add some zest, or mix it with whole grain pasta.
7. Homemade Bread - Buy homemade whole grain bread from the farmers’ market. Whole grains are a source of fiber and other nutrients, including potassium and magnesium.  They can help lower the risk of cancer, protect against heart disease, and maintain a person’s weight.
8. Rhubarb - This brightly-colored, celery-like food is a source of vitamins C and K, calcium, and fiber.  Although it is a common pie ingredient, rhubarb can also be served as chutney for meat or a topper for yogurt.
TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. Founded more than 64 years ago, TOPS is the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind.