If you frequently find yourself in the produce aisle, that’s great. It means you’re stocking your kitchen with natural, whole foods that provide you with antioxidants, vitamins, and the nutrients your body needs to stay productive throughout the day. But there are a few common mistakes that could be preventing you from reaping the full nutritional benefits of your fruits and veggies. As a produce shopper, you’ve probably gotten a first-hand look at some of the rotting produce that can be found in grocery stores — a clear sign that some is better than others. So, how do you ensure you’re getting the ripest, freshest, and most nutrient-rich fruits and veggies? Take a look at these three common produce mistakes you should try to avoid.
1. You only buy produce once a week
While our busy lifestyles don’t allot for a ton of time to make frequent trips to grocery stores, making multiple produce trips throughout the week is something you should make time to do. Fresher produce is more nutrient-rich. Every day your fruits and veggies sit in your fridge is another day where they’re losing some of their nutrients. Women’s Health writes that you should shop for fruits and veggies as close to when you plan to eat them as possible, which may cause you to make a few extra trips to the store. Your taste buds will thank you, though! Take a look at the benefits: Your food will taste better, you won’t have to throw away rotting produce (it’s a money saver), and your body will absorb more vitamins and antioxidants when it’s eating a constant supply of fresh, nutrient-rich produce.
If you just don’t have the time to get to the store more than once a week, buy fresh produce that you’ll be sure to eat over the first few days. To ensure you continue eating your fruits and veggies after your fresh supply has run out, ABC News suggests purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables; it’s a great way to get antioxidants and nutrients, since most produce is frozen shortly after it’s harvested. Studies have shown that frozen produce is just as nutrient-rich. According to ABC News, scientists from Leatherhead Food Research and University of Chester carried out 40 tests to determine nutrient levels in produce that had been sitting in a fridge for three days compared to frozen produce. Their research actually found frozen samples had more beneficial nutrients overall. In two out of three cases, frozen produce packed higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein, and beta-carotene.
2. You opt for convenience
Do you typically head toward the part of the produce section that has fruit that’s already been cut and packaged? While it’s a quick and easy way to get fruit (and better than nothing), it doesn’t have as many nutrients as fresh, whole produce. “Plus, produce’s skin, rind, whatever, is there for a reason: It protects the plant from deteriorating,” per Women’s Health.
It’s not a small amount of nutrients that’s lost, either. According to About, fruits that are cut and stored in the refrigerator lose anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of vitamin C and carotenoids in about five or six days. Cut vegetables are able to retain their vitamin C content a little longer than fruit; cut or peeled veggies lose about half of their vitamin C content in one to two weeks. If you’re going to buy pre-sliced fruit, try to get it eaten within two to three days to ensure you’re not missing out on too many vitamins.
3. You assume the produce you’re buying is ripe
Many of us are just rolling the dice when we pick out our fruits and veggies. We select some that look like they’re in decent shape, hoping they’ll taste good when we bite into them later. But you can take a lot of the guesswork out of it. Take a look at these Fine Cooking tips to ensure you don’t ever pick the wrong produce again.
- Take a look at the color. With some fruits, such as bananas and apples, color is a great indicator of how ripe a fruit is. As the acidity of the fruit changes, the green chlorophyll breaks down, revealing the bright colors underneath the green chlorophyll layer. Berries that have bluish-red tones have deeper, more intense reds when they ripen. Apply the color change rule to bananas, apples, tomatoes, red berries, and cherries.
- Smell the produce. If you can’t tell by its color, give the produce you’re holding a whiff. There are chemical changes that occur in ripening fruits that cause the produce to smell really good. Sniff the end of the fruit that is opposite the stem and only purchase the fruit if it has a fruity aroma.
- Feel the fruit. A gentle squeeze is a good way to test for ripeness. If you’re feeling a fruit that is really hard, it probably isn’t ripe yet. This is a great test for stone fruit, pears, kiwis and avocado.
- Get a sense of how heavy it is. Surprisingly, produce’s weight is a good indicator of whether it’s ripe. If a fruit is described as heavy for its size, it’s a good thing; it means it’s fully mature. So if you’re holding an unusually heavy tomato or grapefruit, by all means, buy it!
Added tip: If you purchase fruit, get it home, and realize it may not be as ripe as you had hoped, here’s a trick. Note: This doesn’t work for all fruits. It’s typically best for apples, pears, mangoes, kiwis, and avocado, according to the Huffington Post. Place the produce in a paper bag, seal it up, and check on it after a few days. If you want to try and speed up the process even more, add an apple or a banana to your paper bag. These fruits — bananas especially — give off more ethylene than others, which will help ripen (or at least soften) any other produce that’s nearby.