Being Well

Virginia Foods: Making Healthy Choices When Eating Virginia’s Bounty

Local Virginia foods, including seafood, meat and produce, offer an array of healthy choices for your diet. Since March is National Nutrition Month, now is a good time to explore the area!

March is National Nutrition Month, which is great news for Virginians because Virginia offers an array of different foods that are both healthy and delicious. Eating locally is not only more sustainable, but more and more research is connecting a healthy diet to a reduction in cancer risk.

Numerous factors can contribute to someone developing cancer, including obesity, too much belly fat, inactivity and eating an unhealthy diet, according to the American Cancer Society. However, studies show that eating a more plant-based diet can reduce your risk. The best advice is simple: Eat whole foods that aren’t processed. Here are some common Virginia foods that can be prepared in healthy ways.

Seafood

Virginia is blessed to have access to the Atlantic Ocean and its bounty of fresh seafood. One of the more popular Virginia foods is oysters. With seven regional Virginia oyster areas, according to the state’s tourism department, you can pick the type you like the most. One favorite is the Chincoteague oyster, from the Chincoteague Bay. These oysters are juicy, crisp and perfectly briny, given they’re sourced from areas along and close to the salty Atlantic coastline.

Although oysters taste great when fried, that means unnecessary oil and breading. Cooking them in butter or adding them to an au gratin dish makes for popular comfort foods, but these aren’t the kinds of fats that are good for you to eat. Plus, you don’t want to cover up a fresh oyster’s taste — but rather, appreciate its natural qualities. The best way to serve oysters at home* is to eat them fresh and raw, which also preserves their flavors. Seafoodhealthfacts.org notes that oysters are a lean source of protein and minerals.

*Those who are undergoing chemotherapy or are otherwise immunosuppressed should not consume raw or undercooked seafood.

Meat

There has been a lot of talk recently about the link between processed meats and cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that people avoid them altogether, except on special occasions. So, the classic Virginia ham, delicious though it may be, is not a great choice health-wise — but some cuts of pork might be. It’s a pretty contentious topic these days, but, as evidenced by the nutritional experts Time Magazine consulted, some authorities believe that certain leaner cuts of pork can make for healthy meals. Try making some pork tenderloin and veggie shish kabobs on your grill.

In terms of agriculture, another big industry in Virginia is the broiler chicken — plus, the commercial turkey industry is said to have started here. Poultry is a better option than pork or red meat, but you’ll want to pass up the skin, which is high in animal fat, according to the American Cancer Society.

Produce

Virginia grows a lot of tasty, local produce, like tomatoes, strawberries, corn, mushrooms and green beans, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture. Look for apples between the Roanoke and Shenandoah Valleys. Virginia is the sixth-largest apple grower in the country, cultivating varietals like Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious and Winesap. Of course, you can eat them plain, but there are other healthy, delicious ways to prepare apples. Try baking them with some cinnamon, or making a low-calorie crumble — sprinkling a mixture of quick oats, walnuts and a little butter and sugar on top. You can get the decadent flavor of a baked apple dessert without the calories and fat of a traditional crumble or pie. Making applesauce is simple to do in a slow cooker, and you don’t even need to add sugar!

You can still enjoy your favorite Virginia foods without drowning them in unhealthful extras. Taking care of your body by feeding it whole, unprocessed foods will help your body do a better job taking care of you.

Find a farmer’s market near you to start eating more locally-sourced foods.

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Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Deborah Abrams Kaplan