Imagine your favorite supermarket. You walk through the front door, and – BOOM – there are the juicy strawberries, watermelons, and blueberries. Have you ever noticed that every supermarket puts their produce right out front? Seriously, I can’t think of a single time in my entire life that the produce section was hidden in the back. It makes sense though; the produce section is filled with vibrant colors that are easy on the eyes, inviting you into their store that you now associate with freshness and (hopefully) quality.
When I asked you to imagine your favorite supermarket, you probably thought of the one with the best produce section. High quality fruits and vegetables are inherently refreshing and satisfying when you get them just right. By the end of this article you will be the master of the produce section, ready to go out there and find the sweetest fruits and ripest vegetables without breaking the bank.
1. Organic matters!!!
Organic food refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. In order to qualify as organic, the crops cannot be grown with bioengineered genes (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, or petroleum-based or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Pesticide exposure can lead to leukemia, lymphoma, brain, breast and prostate cancer. You had me at no genetically modified organisms, let alone sewage-based fertilizers.
But there’s more… Organic food is often fresher because it lacks the preservatives that allow it to last longer. Therefore, organic produce will generally need to be produced on smaller farms that are closer to the store where it is sold. Additionally, organic farming practices have a myriad of environmental benefits, including reducing pollution, conserving water, increasing soil fertility, and limiting exposure of the nearby birds and animals to chemical pesticides.
2. If the skin is thin, buy organic to win.
If we lived in a perfect world with unlimited money and resources, I would buy organic produce every single time. Unfortunately, that’s just not reality. Like most everyone else, I work very hard to provide for my family and must be judicious with my spending.
Thankfully, we have the Environmental Working Group to sort things out for us. They are a nonprofit organization that analyzes U.S. government pesticide testing results. Their findings allow us to objectively separate foods into those that we should always buy organic (the “Dirty Dozen”) versus those that we can feel more comfortable buying non-organic (or “Clean 15”).
Beyond the Dirty Dozen, buyers should also purchase leafy greens (kale, lettuce, etc.), blueberries, raspberries, pears and carrots in their organic form. The general takeaway here is that thin-skinned plants should always be bought organic. On the flip side, if you have to peel away an outer layer to get to the fruit or vegetable, then you’re probably okay to buy it non-organic.
3. Look for signs of freshness.
For most plants, the outward appearance is important. Yellow bananas are ready for consumption, while green ones need to ripen and brown ones may be past their prime. For thin-skinned fruits like apples, blueberries, cherries, grapes and strawberries you’re going to want your fruit to have a deep color and natural shine without wrinkles or bruises. Pineapples and honeydew melon are best when they look golden rather than green. Watermelons that matured long enough before harvest should have a yellow or light spot on the bottom, a sign of being ready to eat. Corn is best when the husk is green and moist. The ideal broccoli head is dark and tightly compacted. Leafy greens start losing their nutritional value when they wilt and start turning yellow. And finally, the color of a mango just flat out does not matter, so when it comes to mangos fuggedaboudit!
4. Toss your produce in the air then squeeze it.
There are two things to look for when feeling your produce. First, if the produce is watery then the weight of it is important. You want it to be heavy for its size, which indicates inherent juiciness. So pick up your orange, lemon, watermelon, pineapple, celery, squash, tomato or even cabbage. Get a feel for the weight among a few of them, and go with the one that feels a little heavy.
Second, if produce has “meat” to it, your goal is to find one that is firm but slightly soft to the touch. So give your apples, peaches, pears, potatoes, and avocados a little *honk honk*. With time you will get the feel for it and can pick out the better produce with your eyes closed, a unique skill that has the possibility of impressing your friends.
5. Buy local!
The farm to table concept has gained traction in recent years, and with good reason. Locally grown crops have less travel time, which means they can be picked at the peak of their flavor before delivery. Shorter time between harvest and consumption means increased preservation of nutrients.
The added benefit of buying local is that it supports local families and helps the environment and wildlife. The Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is every Tuesday from April until the end of September at the Moultrie Middle School on Coleman. The Sullivan’s Island Farmer Market ran from April until the end of June on Thursdays. Shopping at a farmers market allows you to connect with the person growing your food. You can ask questions, get advice, and in most cases will save some money in the process.
Dr. Bulsiewicz is a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC. He believes that the gut is the root of all health and wellness and therefore food is medicine and that we can unlock our innermost potential with healthy gut bacteria. His clinical practice includes the full spectrum of gastroenterology including colon cancer screening, colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, GERD, Barrett’s, hemorrhoids, and liver disease. Follow Dr. B on Facebook (Lowcountry Gastroenterology), Instagram (@happygutmd), and Twitter (@happygutmd).
The entire content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional. Copyright 2016.