A fond memory I have as a child growing up was going along to the local markets with my Mum to choose our fresh food for the week. I have grown to know and love the benefits of eating fresh, in-season fruit and vegetables, and whilst studying nutrition, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper and learn more about the differences of where our fresh food comes from.
Homegrown, locally grown, organic, non-organic, and frozen produce. With so many choices at our fingertips, it is beneficial to know the various levels of nutrition and quality our fruit and vegetables have, depending on how they are grown, and how long they take to reach our plate.
Locally grown fresh produce is an excellent choice when buying your fruit and vegetables. This produce is in-season, it hasn’t been transported far, and you are supporting your local economy. The farmers use nutrient-dense soil and much less use of chemicals. They will pick their produce at its peak ripeness (which is when they are at their tastiest) and it will reach your plate within a few days. You can find these at your local markets, greengrocers, and depending on where you live, some companies will deliver it fresh to your door. Bonus!
Homegrown produce is a healthy way to eat fresh too. Perhaps not as quick or convenient as buying from the market or shops, in the right climate, and with a little work and patience, it is certainly rewarding when you finally get to enjoy it.
Organic supermarket produce
Choosing organic fruit & vegetables from your local supermarket is a great option if you do not have access to local farmers. Organic produce has been grown without the use of artificial chemicals and fertilisers. Before a product can be labelled organic, a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following the rules necessary to meet organic standards. There is also a noticeable difference in taste (and nutrient levels) when choosing organic compared to non-organic.
Non-organic supermarket produce
Fruit and vegetables (not labelled organic) from supermarkets have usually been exposed to a mix of chemicals including pesticides, insecticides, and fertilisers made with synthetic ingredients. These chemicals boost growth, allowing farmers to grow the produce at a much quicker rate, to meet the high demand. The produce is picked before they turn ripe (to keep them from spoiling in transit) and they are usually coated in wax to improve their look and to seal in the moisture. Some produce (depending on the food type) can be stored, refrigerated, or frozen for up to 6 months before it reaches your plate. If you are curious the next time you buy, check the label to see its origin. And as with any fresh produce, wash thoroughly before eating.
Snap-frozen fruit and vegetables are usually picked at their peak ripeness and frozen within a few hours, retaining most of their nutrients. As always, check the label for information and try to avoid packets with added sugar and salt.
Different supermarkets vary with their sustainability. I was speaking with a store manager at our local Waitrose recently, and he explained that whilst they still import produce from other countries to meet the high demand, they have recently bought an organic farm in the UK to increase their locally grown presence in the market, which is positive! Ask your local supermarket, or check the sustainability page on their website, if you want to know more information about their suppliers.
To sum this up, the longer it takes for fresh produce to reach our plate and the more reliance on chemicals for growth, the more nutrients it loses over time, as well as the quality and taste. How we cook our fresh produce plays a big part in this too. Steaming and roasting are more nutritious for you, compared to boiling which releases most of the nutrients into the water.
Whichever way you choose, eating fresh is a great choice anyway, and I hope this gives you a little more insight when buying your fresh fruit and vegetables.
Have a lovely day!