Fresh Connections: ‘Relish power of fresh produce to fight disease’

By: PMA on 19 August 2020

Fresh Connections: ‘Relish power of fresh produce to fight disease’

The fresh produce industry has a golden opportunity to increase the focus on health as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.

Speaking at the 2020 PMA Fresh Connections: Southern Africa Conference, which kicked off yesterday, Trevor Dukes, CEO of Fruit Farm Group and chairman of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Southern Africa, highlighted the importance for the industry to connect locally and globally to share insights on how the industry can survive and thrive. “Some sectors of the industry, such as fresh produce in retail, are experiencing highs whilst other sectors, such as foodservice, have encountered unprecedented lows. Now is the time to be resilient, build partnerships and seek opportunities”. 

The current pandemic has however presented opportunities for the fresh produce industry. Lauren Scott, PMA’s chief strategy and membership officer, noted that while most understand the importance of eating fresh produce, there was often a disconnect in consumers between what they know and what they do. “But now, having a strong immune system has become essential to everyday life, well-being and long term prosperity.”

Explaining how this can be achieved through healthy eating, Dr William Li, scientist and author of the best-selling book Eat to Beat Disease, said that food can be used to activate and boost the immune system. “Activating our immune defences is our chance to lock out COVID-19 and prevent it from entering our bodies.”

Dr Li listed ten fresh produce items that are key to sustaining health. “Guavas and peppers are packed with Vitamin C which helps build immune cells and improves natural antibody production. This, together with turmeric is an excellent way to reduce inflammation in the body. Mushrooms contain vitamin D and Beta-D glucan, which creates antibodies in your saliva so it stops the virus as it enters the mouth.

“Then there are broccoli sprouts or stems which contains natural chemicals that active our immune systems. Olives and olive oil contain natural immune boosters and garlic, tea and blueberries have a compound that activates the killer cells in our system to attack viruses and disease. Chillies activate antibody production and pomegranates activate gut bacteria, which improves our immune systems. Pecans are also a good source of fibre which assist the gut.”

Adding to the benefits of gut health on the immune system, Retha Harmse, director and head clinical dietician at EBS Dieticians, said that 70% – 95% of the feel-good hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. “To enhance our gut health we need to ensure there are enough probiotics and prebiotics in the gut. This means including fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi and also whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables in our diets.”

Dr Li encouraged producers and marketers of fresh produce to showcase their products in a new light and boost consumption. “The pandemic has shone a light on food and observing what the effect is of the food we are eating. We need to start attracting consumers to the produce section of the supermarket and get them to see fresh produce as something to celebrate and relish. Combine common sense, culinary aspects and science to make them want to dive into it!

He concluded that during the pandemic the world had been given the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their kitchens and cooking to build their defences. As such, delegates were treated to a recipe demonstration of an immune boosting, anti-inflammatory, serotonin producing meal. Jolin Judd, founder of Like a Chef combined the key ingredients discussed by Dr Li to create a sumptuous yellow chickpea curry.


About Produce Marketing Association

Produce Marketing Association (PMA) is the leading trade association representing companies from every segment of the global produce and floral supply chain. PMA helps members grow by providing connections that expand business opportunities and increase sales and consumption. PMA has a unique network of more than 53,000 member contacts from more than 2,900 member companies, which are based in 54 countries across six continents. These contacts span all sizes and types of businesses across the supply chain. For more information, visit