Functional Foods at Farmers Markets - Week One

Yahoo! It’s that time of year when the farmers markets are back in full swing!!

For those of us located in northern Illinois, there’s nothing greater than getting out of hibernation to soak up some rays while perusing a beautiful assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables at your favorite farmers market.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) defines functional foods as follows:

“Foods defined as whole foods along with fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels.” J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113:1096-1103.

As a dietitian, it’s so exciting to think about the veritable treasure trove of naturally occurring functional foods available throughout any farmers market.

My excitement about finding and preparing a plethora of functional foods throughout the farmers market season, enticed me to plan this twenty-two-week blog series to focus on it.

Each week I’ll pick one or some of the fruits or vegetables that are typically available at the farmers markets in my area, which is northern Illinois. I’ll provide some functional healthy properties about the food, some recipe links, and any new resources I find.  

Additionally, if and when I ever figure out how to properly do it, you might find some fun videos, or vlog, about the food for the week. *See resources area below for seasonality chart for this area.

Please send me any ideas you have or something specific you’d like to see in the comments section at the end of each blog or via my email in the contact section of my website. Also, take a peek at the resources for some great tools for making the most of your farmers market season.

Have fun and enjoy the beautiful weather!

Remember, if you get overzealous at a market, like a certain adorable daughter of mine usually does, and you can’t use everything or want to access it in the middle of winter; you can  learn how to freeze, preserve, pickle, smoke, etc., all of it with the great ideas provided at this link for the National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia:

Week One - Asparagus

This week, we’ll focus on one of my favorites, asparagus.  I typically buy green asparagus but it is awesome in any color. At my house, we steam it, roast it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, put on the grill, use it in quiche, risotto, omelets, soup, pasta, pretty much any way I can incorporate it into a meal.

Asparagus provides:   

Prebiotic fiber, in the form of FOS (fructooligosaccharide) that can help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal system by feeding the healthy bacteria in your gut.

High amounts of asparagine, a non-essential amino acid (protein building block), which is how this vegetable got its name.

Asparagine is a neurotransmitter involved in the nervous system that is found in high amounts in the parts of the brain involved in short-term memory, emotions, and communication throughout the brain.

Asparagine acts as a diuretic by increasing urine production, helps create and/or modify many proteins within the body, such as DNA, and plays a part in detoxifying the body by helping it metabolize ammonia.  

Provitamin A, also known as beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s also an antioxidant. It helps maintain day and night vision, a strong immunity, healthy skin, and major organs.

Vitamin C, a great antioxidant that stops damage to cells, increases immunity, helps iron and folate get absorbed, and is involved in collagen for repairing skin, bones, teeth and other cells.

Vitamin E, another great antioxidant that’s also a fat-soluble vitamin.  It protects many cells from being damaged, which ultimately lowers the body’s risk of some cancers, heart disease, and eye damage related to aging.

Vitamin K, which helps maintain healthy, heart, bones, and blood clotting.

Folate, a water-soluble vitamin from the B-vitamin family, that should be consumed daily because we cannot store it. Folate plays a role in red blood cell production, and helps support a healthy pregnancy by supporting proper fetus formation and lowering the risk of birth defects.

Chromium, a mineral that is involved in the body’s maintenance of normal blood glucose levels by increasing the insulin response.

High amounts of glutathione, an amazing antioxidant that plays a role in detoxifying the body of things such as peroxide, repairs damaged DNA, removes cancer causing substances from the body via waste, supports the immunity, and recycles vitamins to help protect the eyes.

There are so many mouthwatering ways to use asparagus, try some of these amazing recipes:

Asparagus and Leek Soup (leeks should be available now):

Asparagus with Mustard Dressing:

Chilled Asparagus Salad:

12 Fast and Fresh Asparagus Dishes:

Low Fat Cheese and Asparagus Soufflé:

Roasted Asparagus:


Chicago Farmers Markets:

Illinois Department of Agriculture AgriHappenings list for Farmers’ Markets, U-Pick Ums, Orchards, Pumpkin Patches & Mazes, Christmas Trees, Hunting & Fishing, Wineries, County Fairs, Festivals, Attractions and more:

Illinois Farmers Market Directory provides a market description, location, dates/times, and contact:

Farmers Markets Directory for entire United States provides lets you choose your state and then provides a market description, location, dates/times, and contact:

Field to Plate by Amanda Archibald, RD has links for many states to answer “What’s in Season in Your Region/”:

*University of Illinois Extension: Illinois….What’s in Season, seasonality chart to see what’s typically available each month broken up by Northern and Southern Illinois: