A Guide to Grocery Shopping, Part II

Maria Marlowe’s tips on picking produce wisely.

From Maria: What’s worse than spending $3 on an avocado to find it’s brown on the inside? Lugging a 3-pound cantaloupe up a 5th floor walk-up to find it’s anything but sweet. Instead of cursing the produce manager and swearing off fresh fruit and vegetables entirely, it’s time you learned how to choose these beauties correctly! Maria Marlowe's Guide to Produce Shopping

Spend—and save—strategically when it comes to organic

Ideally everything you eat will be organic, but it’s not always available or economical, so you can save money by only buying the “dirty dozen” foods organic. The Dirty Dozen Plus list is compiled each year by the Environmental Working Group and it outlines the produce with the most toxic pesticides that you want to avoid. This year the Dirty Dozen Plus includes: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, kale and collard greens. Always buy these foods organic to limit toxic pesticide exposure. For everything else, you can save money by buying conventional.

Frozen fruit and veggies are okay!

Frozen produce is often quite a bit cheaper than fresh and it’s typically just as nutritious (if not more so, as it’s picked at its peak ripeness!). The only two foods that are significantly less nutritious when frozen are broccoli and carrots, so buy those in the produce department.

Eat the rainbow

When it comes to produce, color is an indicator of which specific vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients it contains. For example, orange foods are high in Vitamin A, which is needed for clear skin. Green foods contain chlorophyll, a potent detoxifier, and deep blue, purple and black foods contain anthocyanin, a potent anticancer antioxidant. Be sure to choose produce in a variety of colors each week to meet all of your nutrient needs.

Tips for Choosing the Ripest, Tastiest Produce

Ripe produce not only tastes better, it’s more nutritious! Here is how to select the best of five common foods:

Avocado
Avocadoes
First, look for avocadoes with deep, dark green, almost blackish skin. These will be ripe. Avoid any with soft spots, air inside, or with a pit that seems to be rolling around. Then, remove the little center stem nub on the top. If green flesh is revealed, it’s fresh. If it’s brown or moldy, the avocado is past its prime and will be brown inside.
White Button Mushrooms
White Button Mushrooms
Look for mushrooms that have smooth and unblemished caps. Avoid those that are slimy. To get the freshest mushrooms, flip them over. If the cap is separating from the stem, it’s less fresh; instead, choose ones where there is no gap between the cap and stem.

 

Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe or Honeydew
When buying whole melons, look for those that feel heavy for their size and have no dents, fissures, or mold—and then do a sniff test. Bring the stem end of the fruit to your nose. When it’s at its ripest and sweetest, the stem will smell like sweet melon. If you don’t smell anything yet, you can leave it on the counter for two or three days to ripen. Avoid any melons with a stub for a stem. They were likely picked too soon and won’t ripen and develop flavor correctly.
Orange
Oranges
Traditionally, the more orange an orange is, the more ripe and sweet it will be. While this still applies to organic oranges, when it comes to conventional, it’s not always the case. Conventional oranges are sometimes “de-greened,” meaning they are picked when green and underripe, and then exposed to ethylene gas in a warehouse to quickly turn their skin orange so they appear ripe at the grocery store. The gas has no effect on the flesh inside, which will still remain underripe and tasteless. So, when choosing conventional oranges—and they all appear to be the exact same color orange—choose the larger fruits, as that would indicate they were on the tree longer and are likely more ripe. If the oranges on display come in a variety of shades, then they weren’t de-greened, in which case, choose the orange-est orange.

 

Garlic
Garlic
Choose firm garlic, with its papery skin completely intact, and no soft spots or sprouts.


For more tips on exactly how to choose, store, and prepare nearly 100 different fruits and vegetables, as well as each of their unique health benefits, check out The Ultimate Grocery Store Guide. You’ll also learn how to choose the healthiest meat, fish, dairy, and packaged products—and you'll get a cheat sheet of Maria's favorite brands. For more articles from Maria, read A Guide to Grocery Shopping: Part I and see what happened when she took #TeamIvanka shopping at Whole Foods.