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Your best diet starts in the supermarket. The essential what-to-buy guide.

The Produce Aisle

Your healthy diet doesn't start at the dinner table, or even at the stove. It begins at the grocery store. "If you don't know how to navigate a market and separate the good from the not-so-good products, you won't bring home the foods you need," says Jackie Newgent, R.D., a New York City-based chef and dietitian. It's just as important, she says, to store foods properly, so they won't go bad before you can eat them. "A vegetable crisper full of wilted leafy greens and spotted carrots is just another excuse to order takeout." We asked Newgent to take us shopping and point us in the right directions.

How to Shop

  • Buy color. "If you select at least one fruit or vegetable from each hue, you'll cover many nutritional bases with a wide range of disease fighters," explains Newgent. Dark green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are loaded with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and lutein (a cancerpreventive phytochemical). Red items, like tomatoes, pink and red grapefruit and watermelon all contain lycopene, which guards against heart disease and some forms of cancer. Carrots, cantaloupe and red peppers pack in beta-carotene, another cancer fighter.
  • Look for fruits and vegetables that are grown locally, in season. Produce grown in a far-off locale is harvested before it is fully ripened to withstand being transported. By the time it arrives at your market, nutrients, already diminished because of the shortened ripening period, are even further depleted.
  • Avoid anything with bruises, wormholes and soft spots. These indicate that a fruit or vegetable is past its prime or has been poorly handled. However, some marks, such as surface scarring, are a natural effect of tree ripening.

How to Store

  • Most fruit and veggies stay good for about four days, but some last even longer. When refrigerated, fiber-rich apples remain fresh for three weeks, and vitamin-C-packed papayas and mangoes keep more than one week. Sweet potatoes and rutabagas, both high in fiber and vitamin C, keep for a month when stored in a cool, dry place.
  • For more perishable items, like herbs, lettuces and tomatoes, invest in sealable, breathable containers that are made specifically for the task. (Supermarket plastic bags aren't.) Tupperware's FridgeSmart storage containers have two vents, which can be opened or closed depending on each fruit and vegetable's "respiration rate," or the speed at which it deteriorates (the containers come with an insert explaining these rates). Glad's new inexpensive zipper storage bags with FreshProtect II keep produce fresher longer by balancing levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Next:  The Dairy Case


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