The shorter the time between “farm” and “table,” the more nutrition available in fruits and vegetables.
So says Ken Immer, president and chief culinary officer of Culinary Health Solutions in Charleston, South Carolina.
Across the nation, fruits and vegetables are in full bloom right now — and if you’re smart, you can buy them just off the vine or the branch and serve them at your table.
“They are healthiest for us when they’re allowed to mature on the plant, harvested, and then prepared and eaten soon afterward,” said Immer. “Some foods have to travel through the big system of factory farming and can have weeks of time before they make it to your plate — so they may be harvested immature. Or they’ve been grown or processed in a way that extends their shelf life but does nothing for their nutritional content.”
For those who suffer from every color thumb but a green one, it’s worth hitting up your local farmers market right now, since so much is in season. Just be sure to work around the hipsters who clog your path with their mega-strollers as they sip their iced chai tea latte and talk about that triple-supervised playdate (and you thought helicopter parenting was bad?).
Here are seven smart picks at farmers markets, according to several nutritionists who shared insights with LifeZette.
This fresh and delicious summer gem is rich in vitamins A and C and the mineral potassium, according to Jennifer Glockner, RDN, of Los Angeles, California.
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“Vitamin A enhances night vision and promotes cell growth, such as healthy skin and hair. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, promotes wound healing as well as healthy teeth and gums. Potassium is an electrolyte that is important for fluid balance, blood pressure control, and muscle contraction like the heart,” she told LifeZette. Cantaloupe is great in salads, smoothies, as a yogurt topping, and even as a summer gazpacho soup, she added.
Beets and Beet Greens
Beets are excellent sources of folate and a very good source of potassium, and they are another of Glockner’s favorites. Folate, a B vitamin, is needed for optimal brain function and prevents neural tube defects in fetuses. And don’t forget about beet greens.
“They are not only yummy but they are excellent sources of vitamins, A, C, K, potassium, calcium, fiber, and a good source of iron. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. Fiber is important to maintain gastrointestinal health,” said Glockner. Beets are tasty in salads, soups, side dishes, and even add a red color to desserts.
“Consider these delicate vegetables when they are mature,” said Ken Immer. Tomatoes are most famously picked green when they are coming from a distance, so it’s almost exclusively from farmers markets that you can get a true vine-ripened tomato that has a flavor that you just can’t get at the supermarket, he said.
Cukes dry out quickly because they have such a high water content that they’re almost always covered with heavy wax when sold in grocery stores. This renders the skin less palatable, Immer said, which is where a lot of the nutrients are (in the skin!). He suggests buying small “pickling” cucumbers at the market so you can eat the whole thing on a salad and keep from wasting a huge cucumber.
Sweet potatoes are “famously sprayed with an anti-sprouting agent in the grocery store, so they can lounge for weeks before purchase,” Immer said. “A nutritious sweet potato that we just dug out of the ground is bursting with flavor and color,” said Immer, “and is delicious.”
The South is known for its butter beans, and while they freeze “beautifully,” said Immer, “there is nothing quite like fresh cooked butter beans. When the beans are shelled, they will go bad fast, so they have to be kept on ice. You might easily overlook them at a farmers market if you don’t ask. They are often stored in a cooler with lots of ice next to where you check out. If you do pick them up, be sure to cook them that night or the next day. Don’t delay.”
When in season locally, these are the sweetest. Just like the vine-ripened tomato, berries are harvested slightly immature when grown commercially because they’re firmer and travel better, so their sugar content is not at its peak. The local berries often cannot be harvested fast enough before they rot in the fields, so you know you are getting something super fresh.
“I say any fruit or vegetable choice would be great at the farmers market,” said Rebecca Clyde MS, RDN, of Salt Lake City, Utah. “I would recommend that someone try a fruit or vegetable that they haven’t tried before. You’ll be getting it at the peak of the season, so it’ll be at its prime. You can also talk to the farmer about cooking tips.”
As she told LifeZette, “What better option is there?”