This is a healthy buying guide and continuation of our Source Matters series. Feel free to check out previous installments on red meat, poultry, and coffee. Here I’ll highlight why, where and how to start buying healthy vegetables and fruits possible for maximum health benefits.

Buying healthy vegetables and fruits isn’t really as easily as it sounds. For the most part, you are tricked into thinking that anything “organic” and “non-GMO” is healthy, and that’s just not true. You can end up spending tons of unnecessary money and not getting healthy vegetables or fruits that are packed with micronutrients.

Do you need to buy organic vegetables and fruits?

Every year, Environmental Working Group puts out two lists: the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. They research and present these lists dependent on toxin and pesticide contamination. Not all organic produce is created equally. Check out the full ranking list that EWG has put together here.

Dirty Dozen

These are the twelve MOST contaminated produce items:

Apples, Strawberries, Grapes, Spinach, Kale, Celery, Peaches, Bell Peppers, Nectarines, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, White Potatoes

If you’re noticing a trend here, it is that there are deep convoluted structures that you’re eating, or skin that you’re eating. Buy these organic and/or make sure to wash these. What’s the fix? Leafy vegetables, thin skinned fruit and anything you won’t be peeling is a good general rule to buy organic. 

Clean Fifteen

The fifteen LEAST contaminated produce items are:

Avocado, Sweet Corn (not paleo), Cabbage, Peas, Pineapple, Onion, Asparagus, Mango, Papaya, Kiwi, Sweet Potato, Eggplant, Grapefruit, Cantaloupe, Cauliflower

There’s a common theme here, almost all of these include dense shells or skins that you do not consume. Avocados are one of the big ones to save a lot of money on here. Conventional avocados are expensive enough, and organic might sell for double the price.

When you’re throwing away the outer portion of the produce, as opposed to eating the skin, you’re more likely to be safe if you skip buying organic. 

Mineral Depletion

Much of the soil in this country, especially the lots that the mass-produced vegetables and fruits, is deplete of minerals and the necessary compounds for plants to achieve their full health. When the plants are robbed of this, they don’t have as many micronutrients. This means they are not as good for you.

So how does this happen? Crops should be rotated by not only different plants, but also different animals. This helps till the soil, mix in the manure, bring bugs to the surface and increase the overall mineral composition and improve the overall health of the soil. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants. Healthy plants make for healthy humans.

What is the fix here? Go to the farmer’s markets if available in your area. Ask questions. Ask if they rotate crops. Ask if they use fertilizers. The more they know, typically the more you can trust their methods.

Transport time

The second you pull a plant out of the ground, off a stem, or from the tree, it starts oxidizing. What does this mean? The longer it takes to get you, the less healthy the plant is going to be. There is an inverse property to transportation time until the plants get to you and how many micronutrients are left in them.

You can taste the difference in carrots you pull out of the ground versus ones that are in a giant 100lb bag from Costco. They actually taste like something. Sweet. Crunchy. This is no coincidence.

The fix here? Not coincidentally, the farmer’s market. Eat what is locally in season. If you’re eating pineapple in Alaska in the middle of winter, chances are you’re not getting a very fresh fruit. If you live in an area where there is not a lot of year round vegetation, do the best you can and refer to the points above.

Storage of healthy vegetables

One way to keep the micronutrients in vegetables and fruit is to preserve them properly. When exposed to oxygen, the micronutrients oxidize, leaving the plants with much less nutritional benefit.

How do we minimize this? Keeping produce in your crisper drawers is a great idea, but opt for more air tight solutions. Glass Tupperware with works well if you want a fresh vegetable/fruit to keep nutrients as long as possible. There are also microperforated bags that can help with this as well.

Colors count

When choosing which healthy vegetables and fruits to complement your overall nutrition, think in colors. Different colors essentially mean different nutrients. If you think you are eating healthy by just eating a single plant, think again. Mix it up and mix your colors up. Our ancestors used to eat hundreds of variety of plants on a regular basis, and you should try to get as close to that as possible.

Eating Seasonally

Remember our chat about decreasing transit time and eating local to maximize nutrient density? Your body also likes to shift from one thing to another to not have to be continually processing the same nutrients. An easy and quick way to go about this is eating seasonally to your area.

Some areas may be trickier than others, but when you eat seasonally, you are going to by default be getting healthy vegetables and fruits. This will also help you out by challenging you to cook in new and interesting ways using new ingredients.

 

SUMMARY

  • IF IT HAS SKIN THAT YOU DON’T EAT, SKIP ORGANIC

  • EAT A VARIETY OF COLORS

  • IF IT IS GREEN AND LEAFY, BUY ORGANIC

  • PROXIMITY MATTERS, BUY LOCAL

  • WHEN IN DOUBT, WASH IT OUT

  • STORE IN AIR TIGHT, DARK, COOL LOCATION

  • EAT WHAT IS LOCAL AND IN SEASON

What else would you like to see on the next Source Matters buying healthy guide? Any questions? Concerns? Let me know in the comments below!

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