Blueberries. Sweet potatoes. Dairy. Pork. Do you know what these top North Carolina ag products have in common? Not only are they delicious and plentiful in the state, but they also all fall under the category of “powerhouse” foods.
“ ‘Powerhouse foods’ is a commonly used term to describe foods that are packed with the nutrients we all know are important for our diets such as antioxidants, fiber, omega-3s, and vitamins and minerals that are essential to our overall health,” says Paul Moore, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, faculty member and dietetic internship director at the Beaver College of Health Sciences Department of Nutrition and Health Care Management at Appalachian State University. “These foods don’t supply empty calories, but instead are full of nutrients and low in overall calories.”
Take the mighty blueberry. This unassuming berry has tons of nutrients packed into its small frame. North Carolina grows two varieties of blueberries, highbush from mid-May through mid-July, and rabbiteye from mid-May through mid-August, and in 2016, the industry contributed approximately $66.9 million to North Carolina’s economy.
“Blueberries are nutrient powerhouses packed with healthful vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants,” says Lynne Mitchell, who has worked as a registered dietitian for more than 30 years. “Antioxidants are beneficial for health because they prevent or repair damage to cells caused by oxidation. Blueberries are also low in calories, with only about 80 calories per cup. They’re naturally sweet and delicious.”
North Carolina’s official state vegetable, the sweet potato, is another powerhouse player. The state has been the No. 1 producer of sweet potatoes in the nation since 1971, and in 2016, North Carolina produced approximately 95,000 acres of sweet potatoes.
“Sweet potatoes are rich in beta- carotene, vitamins C and B6, and fiber,” Mitchell says.
These tasty taters can be prepared in lots of different ways, too, allowing consumers to easily benefit nutritionally.
Roasting, baking, grilling and mashing are all good ways to eat sweet potatoes,” Moore says.
“If you’re looking for something different for your kids, try making sweet potato fries or sweet potato chips. Thinly slice a sweet potato, add a little olive oil and bake them in the oven.”
North Carolina is home to about 45,000 dairy cows across the state. Each cow produces an average of 2,439 gallons of milk per year.
“Milk is packed with high-quality protein for muscles, vitamin D and calcium for bone health, and potassium, riboflavin, vitamin A, phosphorus, and niacin,” Moore says. “It’s also beneficial for athletes looking to recover from strenuous workouts and exercise.”
He suggests having a glass of milk with breakfast and dinner, and consumers will have 60 percent of daily calcium and 50 percent of daily vitamin D covered.
How to Eat Healthy
Along with these three, North Carolina has lots of other powerhouse foods, including nutrient-packed lean pork, microgreens and grapes.
Mitchell says that one of the best ways consumers can incorporate these foods into their diets is to do a little meal planning at the beginning of the week. “Make a list of the foods you need and commit to shopping at a farmers market or buying N.C.-grown, -caught or -produced foods at your grocery store,” Mitchell says.
Jon Allen, a professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at NC State University, suggests cooking foods in a simple form, or even eating them in their natural forms. “You can put raw squash or sweet potato into your salad and be a little more creative,” he says.