Summertime is the perfect season to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers markets are open for business, and roadside stands pop up across the country.
Anyone who loves produce knows that summer is the best time to partake in nature’s bounty.
“The freshest fruits and vegetables will likely provide the best flavor experience,” says Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, a registered dietitian nutritionist and president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
In addition, the freshest produce is most likely to maintain its full nutritional value.
Getting the freshest fruits and vegetables
In fact, the fresher your fruits and vegetables are when you eat them, the better. Water makes up between 70 and 90 percent of the composition of most fruits and vegetables. Once produce is removed from its source – a vine, bush or tree — it begins to rapidly lose moisture, and its nutrient content suffers.
Refrigeration or freezing can slow this process. However, the longer you wait to eat fruits and vegetables, the more degradation occurs.
For example, studies out of the University of California have revealed that within one week of being picked, some vegetables lose 15 to 55 percent of their vitamin C content.
Because of the potential decline in nutrient quality, you want to get produce from the field to your plate as soon as possible. Shopping at farmers markets – where local farmers sell directly to customers — offers one way to this.
Stands that pop up along the highways and other roads during summer also offer great ways to get fresh produce at a bargain price.
“Roadside stands provide an excellent opportunity to support local agriculture and your local economy,” Kapsak says.
However, to get the absolute freshest produce, plant your own garden. If you are a brand-new green thumb, begin with varieties that are a little easier to grow. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests starting with cucumbers, herbs, peppers and tomatoes.
Once the season is over, don’t give up on the fruits and vegetables you enjoyed during the warm-weather months. The USDA reminds you that frozen and canned vegetables and fruits still pack a nutritional wallop. In fact, freezing and canning can help lock in nutrient content for a longer period of time than you are likely to get with fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you go for canned varieties, choose fruits that are packed in 100 percent fruit juice, and vegetables that are marked “low sodium” or “no salt added.”
Picking the freshest produce
Whenever you shop for produce, it is best to choose what is in season, Kapsak says. “Selecting what is in season is a great way to ensure produce is fresh and at its best,” she says.
The following staple fruits and vegetables are in season during the summer months – along with some tips from the University of Tennessee Extension about what you should look for to make sure they are at the peak of freshness:
Blueberries: Firm, plump, full-colored
Cantaloupe: Delicate aroma, thick netting that stands out
Cherries: Firm, full-sized
Corn: Plump, milky kernels
Cucumbers: Firm, bright shiny green
Grapes: Plump, but fairly soft and tender; green grapes should have slight amber blush, while darker varieties should not include green tint
Green or wax beans: Crisp, long and straight with no blemishes
Nectarines: Plump and fairly firm
Peaches: White or yellow skin color, with a red blush
Peas: Well-filled – but not swollen – and bright green
Plums: Plump and soft enough to yield to slight pressure
Radishes: Firm, plump, round and medium size, with a good red color
Summer squash: Firm and heavy, with a bright, smooth, shiny skin
Tomatoes: Plump, slightly soft and blemish-free with a rich, red color
Watermelon: Symmetrical with dull surface and cream coloring underneath