Fruit and vegetables should be an important part of your diet, with most nutritional authorities recommending a minimum of five one cup servings per day. It is important to make sure that you select healthy produce for healthy living, avoiding food of questionable quality. There are a few basic guidelines which will assist with the selection of good items, although each fruit and vegetable is unique.
In general, the fresher produce is, the better the quality. For this reason, farmers' markets are highly recommended, because farmers often harvest produce that day of or the day before the market. These fruits and vegetables are also usually produced with minimal pesticides, making it a healthier choice for the environment as well. If you do not have access to a farmers' market, plan on going to the grocery store several days a week to pick out the items you need and use it within two to three days.
When purchasing produce from a grocery store, try to use one which gets frequent deliveries. Corner stores and liquor stores tend to have produce of poor quality because it is not delivered fresh daily or stored properly. Also be wary of grocery stores that keep their fruits and vegetables section very cold, because this makes it difficult to check the texture and scent of foods before purchasing them.
As a general rule of thumb, look for even coloration and texture. Any items that are discolored, especially with brown or black spots, should be avoided. Discoloration suggests that produce is old or potentially insect infested. An even color indicates that it is ripe and relatively fresh. Evenly textured foods are also often fresher: in vegetables look for a firm and crisp appearance, while fruits tend to be more soft. Use your experience as a guide, and pick food that looks and smells delicious enough to eat directly off the shelf.
Be wary of packaged fruits and vegetables. Loose items are easy to inspect for areas of rot or mold. Packaged berries, lettuce, or other products may be harboring unhealthy areas where you cannot see them. If possible, open packaged foods to assess their condition. If this is not an option, inspect the package very carefully from the outside, and check the expiration date as well. Avoid purchasing mushrooms in packaged form especially, as they do not do well when stored in plastic.
If you are inexperienced in selecting produce or trying to explore a new flavor, do not be shy about asking for assistance. Most grocery stores have a knowledgeable staff that enjoys introducing consumers to new items, and the staff should be able to help you pick out a good specimen. The grocer can also tell you where the food comes from, how it grows, the way to identify a good sample, and how to use it.