The secret to a rich and flavorful meal is to use the finest, freshest ingredients possible. It’s also the secret to a healthy diet!With spring well underway, a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables are finding their way to your local grocery store. Packed with a wide array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, fresh produce should be a cornerstone of any health-conscious diet.
The key is to choose the right produce and then store it properly for lasting freshness.
- • Buy the rainbow. Try to select fruits and vegetables in a range of colors to ensure you cover all of your nutritional bases. Dark green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and lutein, an important antioxidant that supports eye and skin health. Red items, like tomatoes, pink and red grapefruit and watermelon, contain lycopene, which guards against heart disease and some forms of cancer. Carrots, cantaloupe and red peppers pack in beta-carotene, another cancer fighter.
- • Choose locally grown produce, in season. Produce grown in far-off states or countries is harvested before it is fully ripened to withstand being transported. The shortened ripening period robs the produce of nutrients, which are depleted even further by long transport times. Buy locally grown fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting produce that was picked at the peak of ripeness.
- • Avoid bruises, wormholes and soft spots. These indicate that a fruit or vegetable is past its prime or has been poorly handled. Some marks, however, such as surface scarring, are a natural effect of tree ripening.
- • Most fruit and veggies stay good for about four days. Some do last longer, however. Fiber-rich apples remain fresh for three weeks when refrigerated, and vitamin-C-packed papayas and mangoes keep more than one week. Sweet potatoes and rutabagas, both high in fiber and vitamin C, keep for a month when stored in a cool, dry place.
- • For more perishable items, like herbs, lettuces and tomatoes, invest in sealable, breathable containers that are made specifically for the task. These specially designed containers and bags keep produce fresher longer by balancing levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
- Petronis, Lexi. “Be a Smart Shopper,” FitnessMagazine.com. May 2008 issue.