The arrival of spring brings with it the long-awaited return of many fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only are these tasty and colorful, they’re also good for you in many different ways. Here are some tips on how to pick the best in-season fruits and vegetables and incorporate them into a healthy diet.
First, try to find fresh produce at a local farmers market or self-pick farm. Vendors at farmers markets will often have samples for you to try, and you are more likely to find the best, freshest selection. Grocery store produce is typically shipped from greater distances, sometimes from across the country, so the produce isn’t always as fresh.
Second, there are easy ways to see and feel if your spring produce is in fact fresh and ripe. Look for vibrant colors and check to make sure skin is tight. Wrinkled, dull produce is more than likely overripe, and won’t taste as good. Pick your produce individually, checking each item to make sure it is firm, not soft, mushy or bruised; too firm could mean the produce isn’t quite ripe yet, so be careful. A rich aroma is another sign of fruit at its peak of freshness. Beware of the apple, peach, strawberry or cantaloupe with no smell. Even vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers smell good when ripe. Selecting produce at its optimum freshness will ensure the best taste and the highest amounts of nutrients.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and proteins that offer numerous health benefits including protecting you from diseases. Perhaps the best part, besides adding a flavorful punch to any meal, is that incorporating fruits and vegetables into your daily diet can help you lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) says, “The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables will add volume to your dishes, so you can eat the same amount of food with fewer calories. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling.”
Replacing portions of higher calorie foods such as pasta, cereal and meat with fruits and vegetables will help you consume fewer calories while still giving you plenty of nutrients and helping you feel full after the meal. Stick to healthier methods of cooking your produce such as steaming or baking and try using spices, herbs and lemon juice to add flavor instead of salt. Use olive oil instead of butter to sauté your vegetables if you do fry.
Local counties and state universities offer information through cooperative extension services, which are great resources for information on finding and selecting in-season produce in your area. On the Internet, search for “cooperative extension service” to find your local branch and publications like this “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Buying Guide,” from the University of Tennessee Extension Service: https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP527.pdf.
Be sure to visit your local farmers market to find more fresh produce specific to your area. Try www.localharvest.org or http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/ to find a farmers market near you including some that are open year-round. For additional information on using fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, visit or www.foodfit.com.