So you arrive at your favorite grocery store. You missed the festivities of your local farmer’s market so you are on the hunt for the freshest, best tasting, healthiest fruit and veggies. Before you just randomly start picking out your produce – stop! Do you have an action plan or a strategy? Then do not pass go, do not collect $100 and do not fill your shopping cart just yet. Did you know that there is a way to better your chances of choosing the most health promoting produce for your family?
Ok, I’m going to get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, organic is healthier. Why? Because less pesticides and chemicals are used, you say? Well, that is part of the answer. Think deeper, and when I say deeper, I mean deep into the plants’ roots. Conventional farming strips minerals from the soils used to grow food. When minerals are stripped, this is reflected in an absence or reduction of minerals in the foods the soil grows. Organic farming methods replace the minerals lost in the soil, allowing the food to grow with more nutrients. So when you eat organic, you are literally buffering your body’s nutrient reserve.
Can’t afford organic? Unfortunately, organic can be more expensive which limits many people’s access to these nutrient rich foods. Still, when you get to the market, peruse the organic sections for sales. If it is on sale, grab it! It is probably now very similar in price to conventionally grown fruits and veggies. Also, while you may be drawn to shop at Whole Foods market for your organic produce, that might not be the best bang for the buck. I find my local chain grocery store has more sales and in general, more affordable pricing on organic produce. If possible, focus on purchasing organic the most pesticide laden foods like apple and celery. Not sure how your favorite food ranks? Here is a list of fruits and veggies in order of pesticide data findings for 2014: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php
Ok, now that we’ve passed the organic aisle, we can look at the rest. Do you think if it isn’t organic, that it is all the same? The answer is decidedly no. If you look at the signs by the produce, they should list where the food was grown. If the food was grown in a different country, it is wise to research their laws regarding pesticide and chemical use. I often see signs for foods grown in a variety of countries. Yet I go online and see documentation that suggests certain countries’ pesticide regulations tend to be lax. I use this information to help determine my produce purchases.
The best non-organic purchases are foods that are currently in-season, meaning they are grown now, and only need to travel a short distance to reach your market. For me, that means I look for California local. Now, I believe it is phenomenal to support your local economy, but that isn’t the main impetus for shopping local. The real value in choosing produce from your local growers is those precious fruits and vegetables have only a short distance to travel to reach you. What happens when you buy from across the country? To accommodate the long travel time, items must be picked before they are ripe and then the ripening process must be chemically halted. Otherwise, these foods would ripen and go bad before they ever get near your grocery shelves. Then the produce must embark on a long journey to reach your grocery shelves.
This journey involves being packed up and placed into hot (or cold in the winter) trucks to embark on the long journey towards your home. The food is often stored in warehouses for long periods of time awaiting placement on store shelves. Then, when the food is ready to be placed, it is chemically ripened and chemically altered to look fresh. This chemical ripening means not only more chemicals in your body upon consumption. It also means less nutrients for you. This is because when a food is chemically ripened, it grows differently and loses much of its nutrient value.
So this brings us to the last part of the store to buy good quality fruits and vegetables. Hint: you won’t find it near the fresh produce section. A great place to buy good quality fruits and vegetables when you can’t find good quality fresh selections is the frozen food aisle. “What?”, you gasp! Isn’t fresh always the best option. No, it isn’t!
If you can always buy fresh foods that are local and in season, then there is no advantage to buying frozen. Since most of us eventually crave something that is out of season or isn’t grown locally, frozen is a good alternative. Frozen foods are picked fresh and immediately frozen. This means that they aren’t chemically altered for transport and they don’t need to be chemically ripened. Purchasing frozen can also sometimes be a more affordable way to buy organic for those whose budgets preclude organic merchandise. When food isn’t local and in-season, frozen is better.
One final thought for your fruit and vegetable picking. Always choose items that are the brightest and richest in color. Fruits and vegetables have things called phytonutrients which is part of their nutrient powerhouse. The brighter the color, the more phytonutrients! The more phytonutrients you consume, the better off your body will be.
So there is your action plan for the produce department. And if all this overwhelms you, still eat your fruits and veggies. It is better to pick lesser quality fruit and vegetables than to not eat them at all!