Going to the supermarket each week to stock up on produce is both challenging and thrilling at the same time, or at least it is for healthy eaters or those on a quest to make healthier choices. So much color, so many different prices. Is there really any difference between those organic bananas or the regular ones you normally buy? And what’s up with all those leafy herbs and funny looking roots? What are the healthiest foods out of all these options and which ones are the best for my money?

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If any of these questions sound familiar to you, or you just can’t seem to take your eyes off all those bright and colorful pre-chopped veggies that cost way more than their whole counterparts, then not to worry. Learning to navigate the produce section at the store doesn’t have to take up all your time, all your money, nor does it have to be more like a puzzle than an actual grocery shopping trip. But still, there are certain choices you can (and probably should) make to eat a little healthier than just “going for it” and grabbing anything that looks good.

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Here are some tips to help you navigate the produce section like a pro without worry …

1. Go for the Greens First

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This tip is simple, but it’s not always easy to do. Normally, when you first walk into the produce section, you’ll see tons of impulse buys in bins, such as pre-chopped fruits, specialty items that cost a pretty penny, and sometimes local, seasonal produce or a sale item of the week. Bypass these (you can always come back to them) and first, head for the greens. If not, you might end up forgetting about them, and they’re the number one thing to buy of all foods. Greens such as spinach, kale, arugula, romaine, Swiss chard and collards all make up some of the best choices to put in your cart. Don’t let their low calorie content fool you – they are nutrition bombs! If you aim to include one of them at two of your meals each day, you’re well on your way to becoming healthier. 

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Benefits:

Greens contain magnesium, iron, B vitamins, chromium, potassium, vitamin C and calcium. They’re also a great source of antioxidants that have been shown to fight everything from diabetes to cancer. Greens are also high in fiber that keeps your digestive system running well and they’re rich in chlorophyll that prevents inflammation and arterial damage. Eating more greens may also help ward off cravings for unhealthier foods because they have so many dense nutrients that satisfy the body’s physical needs.

How to Use Them:

You can use them in a smoothie, hearty salad, sandwich, wrap, soup, stew, or another entree of your choice. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your greens, or just keep things simple.

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Buying and Storage Tips:

Always purchase organic since greens are high in pesticides, and organic will ensure you’re eating the healthiest choice available. Buy a few bunches of each (or a package). If you have access to a local farmer’s market, then by all means, purchase them there. When you get home, give them a gentle rinse (if they’re loose), wrap them in some paper towels and store in your crisper drawer or one of the top shelves where it’s colder to keep them nice and fresh. Romaine and heads of lettuce will last much longer, so it’s always a good idea to purchase some, so that you can save it for later in the week and eat the other greens in the beginning of the week before they start wilting (such as kale, Swiss chard, fresh spinach and arugula). You can also shred, chop, and bag your greens and then freeze them as another options. This works really well if you only shop every two weeks and want to use them for smoothies, soups, stews, or basically any dish that’s not a fresh raw dish like a salad.

2. Veggie Staples to Buy

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It’s tough to not pick up every single piece of fruit you see, with all their brightly colored hues and alluring appearances. However, it’s always smart to pick up your vegetables first. Why? Because fruit is generally more expensive per serving, and it’s easier to get full on vegetables than fruits. Many vegetables are also higher in protein and other quality nutrients. For example, broccoli, which not only contains 4 grams per cup, but also 30 percent of your daily calcium needs. So stock up on organic broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, artichokes, celery, onions, and veggie-like fruits such as zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Other great items to buy are healthy root vegetables for a good source of complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes and winter squash. All of these are rich in nutrients that offer disease-fighting and mood-boosting benefits.

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Benefits:

Vegetables keep you full, keep your heart healthy, they help ward off cravings for unhealthier foods, and they’re the next best things to greens in terms of overall nutrition. You don’t have to buy all of these above, though they are some of the best to start with. A  good idea is to try at least five different ones per week to see which ones you love, and then try to rotate five new ones the next week. Variety is key, but you should also enjoy your veggies, so pick which ones you love and stock up on those first.

How to Use Them:

You can prepare vegetables in so many ways! Try them in many of our recipes and also see more ideas in 6 Tips to Keep Your Vegetables Raw So They Taste the Best and 7 Tips for Cooking Vegetables so They Taste Delicious.

Buying and Storage Tips:

It’s always important to buy organic when you can, but you can also buy from farmer’s markets, or buy from local farms at your store to save cost. At the supermarket, organic produce comes with a five digit code, which you can easily tell where the 9 comes in front of the normal four digit code found on produce. Packaged organic greens are also just as healthy as loose, and many have even been thoroughly washed, reducing possible bacteria risk and hassle when you get home. Buy what works for you, what’s on sale, and which ones you enjoy. Root vegetables should be kept in a dark, cool fridge. Other vegetables should be kept in the fridge, with the only exception being tomatoes (technically a fruit), which should be kept on the counter until ripe, then eaten for the best flavor. They’ll hold up for about a week in the fridge after they ripen, but will naturally start to wrinkle up much longer after that.

3. Last, Head for Nature’s Candy

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Last, but certainly not least, it’s time to purchase some beautiful, brightly colored fruit. Fruits contain more enzymes than vegetables so they’re easy to digest on an empty stomach, full of water, and contain natural sugars your body needs for energy. They’re also full of vitamin C, which the body can not produce on its own and you need to eat in order to take care of your immune system. But you should always choose the whole fresh fruit over the fruit juice or fruit “products” out there. If you constantly crave sugar, try this tip: Eat one serving of fresh fruit before each meal (at least 30 minutes so it can fully digest and won’t ferment with your other food in your stomach). This gives your body the sugars it needs for healthy insulin levels, fills your body with enzymes that aid digestion, gives you vitamin C and potassium, and you’ll be less likely to reach for the sweets after your meal because your body’s cravings were met naturally.

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Benefits:

Fruits provide energy, enhance our mood, benefit our blood pressure, and also boost our immune system. Papaya and pineapple also contain digestive enzymes to aid with good gut health, while cantaloupe and watermelons can help with regularity and water retention. Basic items like lemons, apples, bananas and oranges also provide a large amount of nutrition in a small, convenient package. Don’t fear fruit – it’s not the enemy. Whether you eat more or less of it than someone else you know, be sure you include at least a couple or more servings of either sweet or non-sweet fruit each day (zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, etc.).

How to Use Them:

Snack on them, create them into something fancy such as raw ice cream or desserts, eat them before meals, use them in smoothies (which can sometimes be easier to digest), or any other way you enjoy. Check out all our recipes to see what you might enjoy.

Buying and Storage Tips:

Again, it’s very important to buy organic fruits, since most are heavily sprayed and their peels often harbor lots of pesticides, which can get into the fruit when you cut them open via the knife you use. A good tip for purchasing the best fruit is to buy what’s in season. Of course, this is true for most all types of produce, but especially true for fruit since it seems to be the most affected  in both price and flavor depending on if it’s seasonal or not.

Some fruits like pineapple, kiwi, and bananas (along with coconuts and avocados) are generally fine to buy all year. For items such as berries, melons, mangoes, melons, limes, persimmons, oranges, apples, pomegranates, and cherries, buying seasonal can help save you money and provide better quality. They’re also more available during their growing and harvesting season, and better for you than when they’re imported or grown in a greenhouse in the offseason. Another option for easy storage, fresh taste and cost is to buy them frozen. You can also buy fresh fruit when it’s in season and freeze for year round use.

Reember that most fresh fruits should be left out to ripen, then transferred the fridge and kept on a separate shelf from greens and veggies so the fruits don’t cause them to ripen faster.

 

 Last Tip: Be Specialty Food Smart…

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Try to avoid pre-chopped veggies which cost twice the amount for less servings, and avoid fancy treats like dessert date rolls, nut bars, pre-bottled juices (which aren’t really fresh), and exotic salad dressings and such. These items might look appealing but they don’t keep you full, aren’t the most nutritious choices in the produce department, and most cost a pretty penny. Some items that are exceptions include kimchi and real sauerkraut (fermented veggies with probiotics), fresh herbs, garlic bulbs, roots such as ginger and turmeric, and sun-dried tomatoes. 

Remember, you’re on a mission to get the  most nutritional bang for your buck; it’s not hard, but make it count! Do you have any tips for buying nutritious produce?

Lead Image Source:Karen/Flickr