Even if you’re a watermelon purist who believes the fruit is best in its unadulterated form, we think some of the recipes below will change your mind. There are sorbets, mojitos, salads, margaritas, gazpachos and so many ways to use watermelon that you’ll never wonder what to do with a big old melon again.
When we think of harvest seasons, we tend to think peak summer and fall. But even though winter’s fields look fallow in many parts of the U.S., there are still plenty of delicious in-season fruits and vegetables to enjoy, if you know what to look for.
To help determine those guidelines, we talked to produce pros who’ll walk you through it.
Apples, pears and pomegranates
Laurie McBride, the stand and wholesale manager of Wickham’s Fruit Farm on New York’s Long Island, said apples are their most popular winter fruit, and “can last eight weeks or longer, depending on variety.”
“The flavors in Pink Lady and Granny Smith develop more during storage and frankly, taste better after storing than they do straight off the tree, since apples like [the] cold,” she said.
Next to apples are pears. To test for the best ones, McBride advises looking for hydration, first and foremost. “Proper water content is responsible for the balance of flavors and internal structures,” she said, affecting how juicy the fruit is.
Patrick Ahern, produce specialist and head of procurement at Baldor Specialty Foods, a commercial specialty supplier headquartered in Bronx, New York, said pears should be assessed for signs of softness and color change. “Don’t wait too long to eat the fruit, as the window of opportunity is short!” he said. Pears last around three to five days chilled, and less at room temperature.
Shriveled apples or pears can be described as mealy, sour or mushy. Luckily, there are easy indicators that show when a fruit is at its best. Look for tight skin and test for firmness by handling it, but “don’t squeeze it like you would a stress ball! That leads to bruising, and our motto is, ‘Everyone loses when the apples get bruises,’” McBride said with a laugh.
Ahern also noted that holding the fruit is a quick tell. “You will see a common thread with both fruits and vegetables that it should be heavy for its size, which means there’s plenty of juice inside, it’s not dried out or picked too late. You also want to make sure it’s smooth and unblemished, which shows that it has been grown and selected well, as cuts or bruises during harvest can lead to bacteria getting in and mold and rot to follow.”
These criteria also extend to harder fruits, like pomegranates, another popular winter fruit. Irregularly shaped ― not holiday-ornament round ― is actually ideal, and the color doesn’t matter as long as it’s heavy, solid and blemish-free.
Grapefruit, oranges, clementines and other spherical citrus are often at their peak in the winter months. For these, you want to watch out for soft spots, Ahern cautioned. On the other hand, with oval-shaped citrus like lemons and limes, choose the ones that surrender just a bit to a quick squeeze ― they’ll have less bitter pith. Make sure lemons and limes are brightly hued, not spongey or marred by ugly brown spots, which are indicators of being past their prime.
Spherical citrus fruits don’t follow the same rules. Color vibrancy means much less and the nose will know. That’s particularly true for mandarins, Ahern said. “The ones with a skin that easily peels off are harder to discern ― rub the skin and you should get a fresh, strong aroma from the fruit and a little oil on your skin.” You can also sniff the navel to get an idea of the flavor beneath the peel.
As with the other citrus fruits, feel for surprising heft to ensure that they’re not dried out, and be aware that the thicker the skin, the smaller the yield.
Onions, potatoes and root vegetables
There’s treasure buried beneath the hard, frostbitten ground ― onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are the headliners. Joseph Realmuto, executive chef at Honest Man Co. and its celebrated flagship restaurant Nick & Toni’s, is a huge fan of putting root vegetables on his winter menu, not only for their aromatic or cozy feelings, but because “an interesting benefit is that when the weather turns cold, they actually become sweeter due to the defense mechanism of the vegetable. The sugar drops to the roots of their plants to protect it when it gets cold, which is the part you’re eating!”
This is especially true for sweet potatoes. Look for smaller, squatter ones for the best flavor. Longer, thinner sweet potatoes and yams are more prone to stringiness, particularly at the pointy ends. For sweet and regular potatoes of any variety, you want as even, tight (not wrinkly) and intact skin, with clean eyes that aren’t too deep or moist. Ahern advises you to look for potatoes that are “clean, firm, have no mechanical damage like cuts, and no soft spots.” The same goes for rutabagas, turnips, carrots and parsnips. The latter two should be “snappy, not limp” and have fully green tops.
On the other hand, for onions and potatoes of any kind, avoid green growth (unless you’re trying to start a new winter garden). Sprouting means they haven’t been stored properly, and their flavor changes to accommodate this new life. However, don’t worry about the wispy “hairs” dangling off of them ― these little offshoot feeder roots are perfectly natural, common to vegetables dug out of the ground. All it means is that they haven’t been trimmed.
Finally, make sure your onions are dry and papery to the touch on the outer layer. This is one of the most important things, as onions that are extruding moisture to the surface are typically damaged — and moisture is an open invitation to mold and rot. Ahern says to look for shiny, clear skin for best quality. These will be sweet, juicy and fresh-tasting once you cut them open.
Light leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and other summer shoots may get a lot of glory for their delicate flavor and texture. But hardy, fibrous winter greens are way underrated. In this group are chicories, which include frisée, curly endives, radicchio, escarole and Belgian endives; beet family member chard; and mustards, such as collard greens, kale, broccoli rabe, and rapini.
These are naturally a bit tougher than summer greens and can be woody, bitter or even sour. But picked and cooked properly, they can still be tender and smooth if you get them at their best. Your odds of a good haul are actually better these winter months, as items like radicchio, kale, fennel and their related vegetables ― like winter root veggies ― are sweeter in cooler seasons.
Your cue with this category is vibrancy. Look for plush purple in radicchio, bright white in endives, bold yellow and pink in Swiss chard, and of course, deep, lush green in the leaves, which ought to be tight and free of large imperfections. Crispness is another trait you want to keep in mind, Realmuto said. Additionally, you’ll want to pay close attention to the edges of the leaves, looking for signs of fading, which might appear light yellow or brown. Both indicate age.
McBride’s pro tip: Check the stem. “It was once responsible for nurturing the produce, but it stops growing once harvested. Your goal should be to find the most recently harvested possible out of the pile on display, so look for a fresh cut. Something that is brown or black in color or corky to hard in texture has been out of the field for some time.” Ahern noted that an off smell can be a sign of vegetables picked long ago.
Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
This stem rule also applies to brassicas ― cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. You don’t want to see dry, split stems with signs of decay. Rather, tightness and density are the most desired traits. You want the florets of broccoli and cauliflower to appear in dense clusters, and the sprouts and cabbage leaves should be closed like a budding flower. The latter ought to be a middling shade of green, not washed out or overly dark, as that means they were left in the field a bit longer than ideal.
Broccoli florets can vary in shades of green to tinges of violet, but leave them at the stand if they’re yellow, an indicator of them being past their prime with flowers ready to burst. On the other hand, too-tight florets mean they were cut too early and may not be as flavorful.
Broccoli can also get soft if not stored properly on ice, so handle your crown to make sure it doesn’t feel floppy. Conversely, the stalk can be woody if harvested too maturely, so snap off a floret and see if a layer of stalk peels off with it. If it does, grab a different one.
Cauliflower is a bit more straightforward. You want creamy, with little to no gray or brown discoloration, and pale green leaves. You can cut off the dark bits if a few start to develop, but once they get mushy or dark, that head’s a goner.
If you thought hard squash season was over with the fall, think again! They keep splendidly and forever in cool, dark conditions. Seek out pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash and let weight be your primary guide. They should be hard and dense, almost unexpectedly so for their size.
“When choosing squash, look for natural skin color and stay away from wet or translucent-looking skin with blemishes,” Realmuto advised. Unlike other types of produce that are traditionally waxed to a high gloss for appeal, a shiny winter squash is actually not your best pick. That means it was plucked too early, as mature squash will be more sedate ― duller, matte and more strongly hued. Bumps and color variations are completely acceptable.
Ahern repeated that you should make sure there are no cuts or soft spots. That includes any area at all that allows your nail to break through easily. If you can do that, it’s already past its prime. Also, look out for cracks. Not only does a crack indicate rough treatment, but it breaks the rind’s protective seal, allowing bacteria to enter and rot to commence.
Lastly, check the stem as you would with greens, making sure there are no signs of mold or decomposition. It should be dry, hard and in one piece, which will indicate proper harvest and storage before it hit your market.
When it comes to winter produce, as McBride says, just ask. “When in doubt, ask your farmer. Ask at the farmer’s market. Ask the produce manager. You might be surprised, but we have a passion for what we do and love to share it!”
So, just because the major traditional feast days are behind us, season’s eatings are still ahead. Go ahead and make yourself a wintery mix of your own devising. Your body will thank you.
Most Americans have been cooking at home more during the COVID-19 pandemic, but cooking fatigue may be setting in nearly a year into the crisis. Purchasing precut fruits and vegetables is one way to bring more convenience to the kitchen ― even if it costs up to three times what the whole produce would cost you. But there are a few things you should know before you buy them.
“Precut fruit has some major downsides,” Max Lugavere, health and science journalist and author of “Genius Foods,” noted in an Instagram post a few months ago. Buying whole produce usually brings bigger benefits, he said.
“Generally speaking, I think that it’s better for most people to buy whole fruit from an economic standpoint; it’s going to be less expensive,” Lugavere told HuffPost. “From a food safety standpoint, fruit that is protected by a rind or a peel, there’s going to be very low risk of contamination with other foodborne pathogens, like salmonella and E. coli. I think that whole fruit is nutritionally the best option. It’s going to be fresher, also.”
Precut produce is definitely a timesaving option, Lugavere admitted. And for some people, it may be the only way they’ll realistically eat fruits and vegetables ― especially since it’s more accessible for older people or people with disabilities, who may have trouble cutting or peeling. For those reasons, no one’s suggesting you altogether stop buying precut produce.
But there are certainly cons to precut fruits and vegetables, so we asked food safety experts to unpack some of the issues.
Precut produce is more susceptible to contamination
“With cut fruits and vegetables, you may only have one piece that actually has, say, salmonella or listeria on it,” Brackett explained. “But, when you cut it up and start mixing it, it now cross-contaminates the entire contents of your mixing bowl. And, it’s just inherently adding more risk any time you have human beings handling the food.”
Cooking could kill some of the bacteria, but lots of produce is consumed raw, heightening the risk. Any precut, bagged or packaged fruits or vegetables also need to be refrigerated or surrounded by ice, both in your own kitchen and in the grocery store. Don’t buy it if they’re not, the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationsays.
Nutrients may be lost through oxidation
Cutting or peeling fruits and vegetables exposes their insides to light and air. This causes oxidation, which could affect the texture, color or taste. They might start to lose nutrients if they sit for a while, too.
Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and vitimin B, and some antioxidants are especially sensitive to oxidation, Lugavere said. “You can see that when you cut open an avocado and the flesh turns brown, or the same thing with an apple,” he explained.
That doesn’t necessarily mean precut fruits and vegetables aren’t nutritious, though. You’ll still get the water and fiber content, and some vitamins, Lugavere said. Just try to eat them as soon as you can after purchase.
Precut produce has a shorter shelf life
Since precut fruits and vegetables are vulnerable to oxidation, they won’t last as long as the whole versions that are protected by a rind or skin. So, paying attention to sell-by, use-by or best-by dates is critical. Look for products with the most recent date, as they were prepared most recently, Brackett said.
“I tend to reach for the fruit in the back, because that’s where they put the freshest stuff,” Lugavere said. “That’s one way to sort of hack the system.”
When you get home, refrigerate the items immediately at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, according to the FDA. “Use your oldest one first, and then later eat the one that’s been around soonest,” Brackett said.
Precut produce is more expensive and comes with lots of plastic
Precut fruits and vegetables tend to be pricier than their whole counterparts. In 2018, Vice found that precut produce was up to three times more expensive. For example, a whole head of romaine lettuce cost $1.99, but a 22-ounce bag ran $3.99. A whole pineapple cost $2.99 a pound, but $4.99 a pound when it was chopped.
“For the value, for the nutritional bang for the buck, for the fact that you’re not using single-use plastic, I think buying a whole fruit is going to be the best option,” Lugavere said.
But, precut produce could get people to eat more fruits and vegetables
Precut vegetables and fruits save the time and hassle of having to cut, peel or chop. And that’s the main draw, Brackett said.
“More people, I think, because of cut produce, are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and that’s a good thing from a nutritional point of view,” he said. “If they’ve got to cut it up themselves, they’re less likely to even bother, so it’s a good way to encourage people to have a more balanced diet.”
Still, if you’re still planning to buy precut fruits and vegetables, Brackett emphasized that storing and handling them correctly is vital, and to only purchase them from reputable grocery stores where you shop regularly.
Look, making pie crust can be therapeutic and rewarding, and many bakers find comfort in the ritual of cutting cold butter into flour, gently working it into a ball and rolling it into a perfect disk. But for everyone else, making a pie crust from scratch can be a true nightmare.
If you love the flavors of pie but dread struggling with pie dough that breaks, shrinks and crumbles, fruit crisp is your new best friend. It’s essentially a great big pan full of your favorite pie filling, topped with a somewhat foolproof topping and completely void of pie crust. It’s delicious served warm or cold, and it’s especially good topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
Pro tip: Make your crisp topping in advance and store it in an airtight storage bag in the freezer. When you need to make a dessert in a hurry, you’ll be ready.
Check out some of our favorite crisps below, from apple to pear and even pumpkin ― they’re all perfect for Thanksgiving.
HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change.
Even though most of us have been staying inside more in recent months, there have still been plenty of fashion trends in 2020 — including tie-dye and biker shorts.
But perhaps the biggest trend to rise during these unprecedented times has been “cottagecore,” an aesthetic that’s about nostalgia for farm life and so-called simpler times (think flowered dresses, milkmaid braids and pastels). The trend helped popularize the now ubiquitous (and slightly under $500) “Strawberry Dress,” which is made of pink tulle and covered in sequined strawberries. (There are tons of convincing and cheaper lookalikes on Etsy, BTW.)
“It makes sense why fruit prints are back — lots of us are trying to turn lemons into lemonade these days.”
It makes sense why fruit prints are back, since lots of us are trying to turn lemons into lemonade these days. This trend’s a happy one, too — you can’t help but love a set of peach-printed sheets or an orange juice vase (and I would know, since I have purchased both in the last couple of weeks!).
We’re hoping veggies become the next big print trend — like broccoli-printed bikinis, tops garnished with tomatoes, and coats covered in carrots (and more veggie oven mitts, please). In the meantime, since fruit prints don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, we’ve found everything from a fruit salad face mask to a cherry-shaped hair clip.
Here are our favorite fruit prints you can find online:
If you’ve been frantically washing your produce in soapy water in hopes of scrubbing away the novel coronavirus, you’re definitely not alone. But food safety experts actually advise against this.
Even though soap is a kitchen staple and is effective at preventing the spread of the virus, it’s designed for cleaning surfaces and hands, and isn’t formulated with consumption in mind — meaning scrubbing your apples with soap isn’t a good idea, even if you’re worried about reducing virus transmission.
To learn more about the do’s and don’ts of produce cleaning, we reached out to food safety experts. Here’s what we learned:
Why isn’t it a good idea to wash produce with soap?
Consuming soap can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other forms of gastrointestinal distress. Not only are those unpleasant, but they mimic some of the symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and could send you to the hospital, placing undue stress on our already-overburdened health care workers and facilities.
Gastrointestinal distress generally happens after consuming soap in relatively large quantities, but food safety experts say it’s still not a good idea to wash your produce with soap. Washing with soap can also impact the flavor of your food.
“Consumers should not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or soap,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes in an online fact sheet. “These products are not approved or labeled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on foods. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce.”
Don Schaffner, extension specialist in food science and distinguished professor at Rutgers University, likens the use of soap on produce to using a BB gun to kill a fly. “It might work,” he said. “But it’s probably not the best tool.”
If soap isn’t advised, how can I clean my produce?
In a world where everything feels increasingly complicated, cleaning your produce is as simple as it gets — all you need to do is gently rub your produce while rinsing with running water. “There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash,” the Food and Drug Administration said in an online tip sheet. For firm produce like melons, cucumbers, carrots and avocados, you can also use a clean scrubbing brush, but this could damage softer produce.
Based on research related to foodborne illnesses and other viruses, somewhere between 90% and 99% of what’s on the produce can be removed with running water, explains Ben Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University.
“We really can’t get much better than that by adding [anything] to the water,” Chapman said. “That’s kind of as good as it gets.”
Sometimes microbes can attach to crevices or other parts of a fruit or vegetable that water can’t reach. But adding soap isn’t going to do any better than water alone, he said.
Since there’s currently no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through food, produce washing guidelines are the same as they would be if we weren’t facing a pandemic. This includes a step that’s particularly important these days — thoroughly washing your hands with warm water and soap both before and after preparing your produce. Other FDA recommendations include removing damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating, rinsing produce before peeling or cutting, drying produce after washing it and removing the outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage.
Does water temperature matter?
It’s ideal to rinse your produce in cool water, since hot water can cause wilting or damage. Many people are drawn to rinsing their produce with warm or hot water in hopes that it will kill the virus, but killing any virus or bacteria would require water so hot that it would actually cook or damage your produce and burn your hands.
Chapman said warm water is fine, “but you’re not going to get any further removal than you would if it was just cold.”
Should I wash produce as soon as I get home, or right before I use it?
Chapman suggests rinsing your fruits and vegetables before eating rather than as soon as you get home from the store, as rinsing right away could cause your produce to go bad faster. There are active compounds on the produce that keep it from decaying, he explains, and these are removed when rinsing. But if washing your produce as soon as you get home makes you feel better, that’s a fine option.
Are special produce washes effective?
Schaffner said produce washes are likely safe and effective, but many haven’t been tested in a rigorous scientific way, so it’s hard to say if they’re more effective in removing bacteria and viruses than simply rinsing with water. “And of course nothing out there has been evaluated against this new coronavirus,” he said.
Can I make my own produce wash?
Many DIY fruit and veggie wash recipes call for a combination of water, vinegar, grapefruit seed extract or lemon juice, and baking soda. Chapman said there’s no harm in using these, but you might end up with vinegar-tasting produce.
Plus, they’re more expensive than using water alone, and there’s no evidence that vinegar is effective in destroying the novel coronavirus. Given that there isn’t any research to show a reduced risk of disease transmission when using a handmade wash, your money could probably be better spent in other places.
Do I need to leave produce outside my house before bringing it in?
There’s not a lot of evidence to show that leaving produce and other groceries outside the house for a few days is necessary or effective in reducing virus transmission.
Chapman points out that for this to be effective, it would depend on factors like temperature, relative humidity and whether a virus is even present on the food. As of now, we don’t have any indication that food is a vehicle for COVID-19 illness, so it’s hard to say if leaving food outdoors or in a garage for three days would matter.
“If I want to do what I can, I could just rinse it underwater to achieve the same thing,” Chapman said. Washing your hands after handling produce and other foods from the supermarket is important too, he said.
From what we know about coronavirus transmission, handling produce should be a smaller concern than being in close proximity to people who have the virus, such as while at the supermarket, since the disease more likely spreads through respiratory droplets than on food and other surfaces.
“The biggest risk in acquiring produce for dinner is going to the grocery store and being around other people,” Schaffner said. “That’s the big risk. It’s not in how you wash it or whether you wash it. It’s really all about social distancing and staying home from the grocery store if you’re sick.”
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“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is great advice, since there are serious nutritional benefits to eating apples. But the saying ends before it mentions what else to eat.
To learn which other fruits (and vegetables) you should be eating every day, we spoke to Dr. Michael Greger, author of “How Not to Die,” and cardiologist Joel Kahn.
Greger’s bestseller lays out “The Daily Dozen,” the 12 foods to eat every single day. The dozen includes beans (legumes), flaxseed, nuts, grains, spices, beverages and … exercise? The Daily Eleven certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it, we guess! (Regardless, it’s good advice.)
Let’s dive deep into the remaining five components of the dozen below and learn why you should be eating these fruits and vegetables every single day.
Wait, isn’t the sugar in fruit bad for you?
Fruit is part of the Daily Dozen, and if you’re concerned about your sugar intake when it comes to eating it, know that both doctors differentiate between fruit sugar and what Greger calls “free sugar” found in products that contain corn syrup, such as candy bars and sodas. When free sugar is consumed, people experience an increase in triglycerides, fatty liver and blood pressure. But our bodies process sugar differently when it’s eaten as part of fruit.
To get nerdy for a moment, the fruit’s cell walls have a non-digestible physical barrier made of fiber, and that fiber slows the rate at which sugar gets absorbed into our system. “There appears to be no limit of sugar intake as long as it’s the way nature intended,” Greger said.
Kahn concurred, citing a Chinese study that showed that fresh fruit consumption even helped people suffering from diabetes. “If you were a diabetic eating fruit, you had less risk of complications of diabetes because there are so many minerals and vitamins in fruit that it helps protect your nerves and arteries,” Kahn said. “Fruit is very protective across the board. There are treatment programs for diabetes that use diets largely of fruit.” He also noted that fruit is often a better food choice than anything else lying around. “If you’re having a handful of blueberries, you’re not eating a doughnut,” he said.
Suggested: one serving per day
If the fruit you’re about to eat ends in -berry, you’re on the right track. Strawberries and blueberries are especially good for you. “Berries are the healthiest fruit, just like greens are the healthiest vegetables,” Greger told HuffPost. He cited one Harvard study that showed senior women who consumed berries had a slower rate of cognitive decline. There’s also a growing amountof research about berries’ benefits with regards to cardiovascular disease, which Greger noted is the No. 1 killer of men and women.
“In the entire gamut of nutrition voices, everyone loves berries, which is very rare,” Kahn said. “People who follow many diets ― including whole food, plant-based, keto and paleo ― love it because it’s a low-glycemic fruit. Berries have natural sugars, like all fruits do, but you’ll get less of a rise in blood sugar with berries than you might with a mango or a pineapple.”
Dark, leafy greens
Suggested: two servings per day
Popeye was on to something. Leafy greens “have the highest nutrient density than any other food, meaning more nutrition per calorie than anything else we could possibly put in our mouths, which translates to about a 20% drop in heart or stroke risk for each daily serving,” Greger said. Greens worth seeking out include arugula, kale, beet greens and Swiss chard. It’s summertime, so use it as an excuse to get outside to shop for groceries. “If you want to get mustard greens, turnip greens or collard greens at a farmers market, that’s fantastic,” Kahn said. “Collard greens are unbelievably high in natural plant-based sources of calcium.”
Suggested: one serving per day
If it’s in the cruciferae family, it should be on your plate. Broccoli and cauliflower are probably the most prominent cruciferous veggies, but Greger advises to branch out to cabbage. “Red and purple cabbage have the same eyesight- and brain-protecting antioxidants that berries do, but at a fraction of the cost,” he said. “I encourage people to always keep purple cabbage in the crisper to slice up shreds onto any meal for a colorful, healthful garnish. It’s important to get in cruciferous [vegetables] every day because of these kinds of compounds that are basically found nowhere else in the food supply.”
Among Kahn’s favorite cruciferous veggies are watercress, radishes, mustard greens and wild arugula ― yep, some of those are also leafy greens, but that highlights their importance, especially because of sulforaphane: “There is a chemical created in our bodies by eating these veggies called sulforaphane,” he said. “It’s been shown over and over again to be very protective against the development of cancer.”
Fruit (yes, as an entire category)
Suggested: three servings per day
Yep, berries are a fruit, but eating fruit is so important that there’s a whole category dedicated to them. Which fruit should you consume every day? “Pick a fruit, any fruit!” Greger said. “There’s all sorts of wonderful things out there. Berries just happen to be a fruit with a lot of studies about them, but there’s also apples!” He noted that eating apples can potentially reduce the chance of stroke and heart attack mortality.
Kahn is impressed by the antioxidant level in kiwis. But if you don’t have a plentiful supply of kiwi in your fridge, fret not. “I’m fine with just bananas,” he said. “If you’re in a gas station and you have a basket of bananas, and you have every other abomination of health [around you], never fear the old banana in a pinch. It’s perfectly fine and the best choice you can make in a lot of situations like that.”
Vegetables (again, the entire category)
Suggested: two servings per day
I know, I know. Morevegetables? After you’ve filled up on leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, it’s important to squeeze in two more servings of these plants. And even though mushrooms aren’t technically veggies, they were cited by both doctors as being worthy additions to your diet. And those two docs aren’t alone. “They’re the hot group of vegetables being adored worldwide,” Kahn said. “They have a natural ability to lower cholesterol through their action in the gut. Plus, there’s good data that you can influence your risk of cancer by eating mushrooms, particularly breast cancer.”
Greger said that you don’t have to buy the pricier culinary mushrooms, such as shiitake, to get the benefits. “Eating plain white button mushrooms, the cheapest kind, can seriously boost our immune system and cut down on upper respiratory tract infections,” he said. “When I encourage people to follow a plant-based diet, that’s short for a plant- and fungus-based diet, but it’s a mouthful that doesn’t taste very good.”
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About every other patient who walks up to Abid Nadeem’s counter at Dyckman Pharmacy in the Inwood section of Manhattan is picking up prescription medication to treat high blood pressure — losartan, telmisartan, beta blockers like metoprotolol, bepridil and other calcium channel blockers. But Nadeem’s favorite prescription to hand out to these patients is the one they can use to get $30 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables at the nearby Inwood Greenmarket, for free.
In May, Nadeem, the supervising pharmacist at Dyckman, was selected to join New York City’s Pharmacy to Farm program, which provides extra money each month for fresh produce to people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and are on medication for hypertension. One in five New Yorkers is on SNAP; one in four has high blood pressure. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables canlower blood pressure and reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
Nadeem was so enthusiastic about introducing the program to the residents of the neighborhood he’s served for 25 years that he spent his own money to design, print and mail 4,000 promotional flyers. Just a few days after dropping off the last batch at the post office, he was already seeing new faces coming in to sign up.
“I’m excited to join and tell my patients how important this program is,” Nadeem told HuffPost. “They are understanding what it all means, how the city is spending money on them, for their health. They are eager to get vouchers.”
He’s already enrolled 80 patients and is expecting many more now that all the flyers have gone out.
Pharmacy to Farm started as a New York City Health Department pilot program in the spring of 2017, funded by the USDA’s Farm Bill. When patients pick up their blood pressure medication at participating pharmacies, they’re handed a “prescription” for $30 in coupons, redeemable for fruits and vegetables at any of the city’s 142 farmers markets.
Amanda Schupak The Union Square Greenmarket is one of 142 farmers markets citywide, all of which accept Health Bucks. Three nearby pharmacies participate in the Pharmacy to Farm program to dispense fruit and vegetable prescriptions to New Yorkers with high blood pressure.
What started out as a very small pilot in just a few pharmacies has been so popular with patients, pharmacists and farmers markets that it’s rapidly expanded, first to 10 pharmacies, then to 16, many in low-income neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, explained Jeni Clapp, director of nutrition policy and programs at the NYC Health Department.
“There has been a lot of interest in the clinical environment to figure out how doctors can connect their patients to healthier food,” Clapp said. Doctors and registered dietitians often recommend eating better to treat or reverse health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, but then have no good way to help patients change their diets. “For people who have fewer resources, a lot of clinicians were interested in actually connecting patients to those resources.”
Food inequity researchers have foundtime and again that healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, aremore expensiveandharder to findfor low-income families, who often end up relying on cheaper, more convenient, more calorically dense and less healthful options. Research alsoshowsthat when you make healthy food cheaper, people buy more of it.
In most states, SNAP recipients already get some financial incentives, such as coupons or rebates, to buy healthy food. In New York City, these incentives take the form of Health Bucks, which can be used to buy fresh produce at farmers markets across the city. For every $5 in SNAP benefits recipients spend at the market, they get a $2 Health Bucks coupon. Studies have shown that these incentives increase fruit and vegetable consumption, said Alyssa Moran, assistant professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University. Fruit and vegetable prescription programs are emerging as a way to expand incentives and get more people using them to improve their health.
Often people are forced to make tradeoffs that no one should have to make between paying for your medication or paying for food for your family.Alyssa Moran, assistant professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University
By signing up for the Pharmacy to Farm program (and picking up their prescription medications), low-income adults with high blood pressure get extra Health Bucks for foods that can help them manage their condition. Since launching in May 2017, Pharmacy to Farm has distributed over $80,000 in Health Bucks to more than 850 participants. It’s a way for the city to simultaneously address two pressing public health issues: low food access and chronic high blood pressure.
“The food we eat really can change our health. That’s what makes it so unjust that people’s access to healthy food is influenced by their income,” New York City health commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in a statement. “We’re making it easier for New Yorkers who need it most to afford more fresh produce. This is good for New Yorkers’ wallets and good for their health.”
Researchshowsthat people who are dealing with chronic diseases are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. Moran, who is not involved in Pharmacy to Farm, described the relationship as a vicious cycle: “If you’re already low-income and food insecure and struggling to make ends meet, and you’re now diagnosed with a chronic disease, you now likely have increased expenses, because you’re paying for transportation to appointments, you may have higher out-of-pocket medical expenses, you need to pay the cost of medication. Often people are forced to make tradeoffs that no one should have to make between paying for your medication or paying for food for your family.”
She added, “What’s really cool about this program is that it’s actually incentivizing you to be able to do both. You go to pick up your medication and you’re receiving money that can be spent on healthy food that can be used to help you better manage your chronic disease.”
“Clinicians actually don’t have a ton of time with patients. So having a program like that be sustained and be something that can be scaled can be challenging,” said Clapp. Plus it’s hard to get a doctor’s appointment and easy to walk into your local drug store.
Courtesy NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene/Amanda Schupak/HuffPost Flyers for the Pharmacy to Farm program in the window of the QuickRx Specialty Pharmacy on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (left) and at the Union Square Greenmarket (right).
After talking to New Yorkers in low-income neighborhoods, Clapp and her team learned that people really trusted and relied on their pharmacists. And the pharmacists were eager to find new ways to help their patients afford and implement lifestyle changes, such as eating better and being more active. “They saw this program as a way to remove a barrier for their patients to be able to access healthier foods.”
Nadeem knows the families in the neighborhood well. He loves when he sees customers he knew as children, now grown up and married, coming into Dyckman Pharmacy with kids of their own. Along with medication, he dispenses guidance and advice. But there’s only so much he can do on his own.
“I can tell them, ‘Eat healthy,’ but how are they going to buy healthy food? Everything is so expensive and they don’t have enough [money] to buy [it]. It’s very difficult to tell them to change their diets,” he said. “With this program, they don’t have to spend a single penny. They are coming to the pharmacy, we are giving them the voucher … they are getting the medicine and they’re getting fruits and vegetables, which otherwise they don’t buy.”
He says patients tell him they love the program and that they are buying — and eating — more fresh produce. He’s also happy that the lure of the voucher is getting people who were lagging behind on refills to come in regularly for their medications.
Beryl Benbow, 67, picks up her atenolol, a beta blocker, once a month from Whitman Pharmacy in Fort Greene, Brooklyn — and always puts her $30 in Health Bucks to use at the farmers market on the corner of Washington and DeKalb. A community chef and self-described flexitarian, Benbow has always eaten a lot of vegetables, but since joining near the start of the Pharmacy to Farm program, she’s eating even more.
“It was like a true payday because I was really able to take advantage of being able to buy more at the greenmarket. I feel I eat fresher and more vegetables definitely,” she said. “It tastes 100% better and lasts for the most part much longer than the vegetables I’ve bought in the supermarket.”
Whereas before she was limited by her budget in what she could buy, now she’s able to spend money on fresh herbs and try vegetables she’s never had, such as Jerusalem artichokes and kohlrabi. Cheng Lin, the supervising pharmacist and owner of Whitman Pharmacy, said other participants also report being exposed to new foods. The Health Department offers nutritional education and cooking demonstrations focused on budget-friendly recipes at 15 markets in the city to teach people how to pick and prepare foods that might not be familiar to them.
I can tell patients, ‘Eat healthy,’ but how are they going to buy healthy food? Everything is so expensive.Abid Nadeem, supervising pharmacist at Dyckman Pharmacy
It’s too early to know if Pharmacy to Farm is increasing consumption of fresh produce for all participants or having a measurable effect on their health. (Nor is there a clear threshold for exactly how much fruit and veg a person needs to eat to lower high blood pressure.)
Anecdotally, people working the SNAP booths at the markets say they’re seeing new faces picking up Health Bucks with Pharmacy to Farm prescriptions. At markets where the health department runs healthy cooking workshops and hands out recipes, featured products are selling out.
Participants are required to fill out a short multiple-choice survey when they pick up their prescription, reporting, for instance, how often they ate fruit in the past month. Clapp is aiming to publish that data in the next year or two, and use the results to expand the program further.
She’s also looking into adding supermarkets, which can be complicated because different stores have different protocols for processing rebates. It would be easier if the vouchers could be loaded onto the SNAP debit cards, Moran suggested.
“The more you can meet people where they are, the better,” she said. “If people are already spending most of their food dollars in supermarkets, if this type of program can be implemented in supermarkets, I think we’d see greater utilization and greater effects. But working in farmers markets is a great first step.”
It’s also, Clapp stressed, a great way to support local farmers. And since Health Bucks increases the food budgets of people in areas of low access to healthy food, it draws more vendors to low-income neighborhoods.
Moran would love to see fruit and vegetable prescription programs be funded by health providers and insurers, which would benefit if those programs can be shown to lower total health care costs. “We know that food insecurity for patients with chronic diseases increases health care utilizations and cost of care,” she said. “I think there’s really huge potential for these types of preventive programs to lead to better health outcomes for patients and better financial outcomes for the health care system.”
“Any way we can make these types of programs financially appealing for other types of payers, I think they’re more likely to be sustained and more likely to reach a larger number of people,” Moran said.
For now, Nadeem put it simply: “I hope the city doesn’t stop this.”
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Until some of your produce unexpectedly goes bad or just tastes like it, it’s easy to forget about the importance of proper storage. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), fruits and vegetables have the highest rate of waste of all types of food. This waste is not only expensive but bad for the environment.
Aside from buying less and being more mindful of the produce you have in the house, one of the best ways to avoid food waste comes in knowing how to properly store your fruits and vegetables.
To help you out, we’ve compiled some of the most common produce storage mistakes and some tips for avoiding each:
1. Don’t store your produce based on how it’s displayed at the supermarket.
Just because an item is displayed at room temperature at a supermarket or farmstand doesn’t mean you should keep it on your countertop upon returning home.
“Farmstands rotate their produce and have it out for display, but it’s not ideal,” said Lucy Senesac, manager and educator at Sang Lee Farms, a certified organic farm on Long Island, New York. “Lettuces and pretty much anything leafy and green must always be in the fridge and in a bag if you don’t want it to wilt.”
To help your food live up to its storage potential, it’s important to do your research. Natural Resources Defense Council’s Save the Food storage guide is a good resource to quickly determine the best way to store your fruit and veggie haul.
Senesac recommends leaving tomatoes on your countertop and covering them with a towel for protection from fruit flies.
3. Don’t refrigerate watermelon.
Once you’ve experienced the delight of cold watermelon on a hot summer day, it’s easy to assume it should be stored in the refrigerator. But the truth is, watermelon starts to lose its flavor and vibrant color after more than three days in the fridge. For best results, store watermelon at room temperature out of direct sunlight, and eat it within a few days. Keep in mind that cut melon will need to be refrigerated for food safety reasons.
4. Don’t chill your zucchini in the coldest part of your fridge.
Some kinds of produce, like zucchini, require refrigeration but don’t thrive in extremely cool temperatures. Senesac recommends storing zucchini in the crisper or wrapped in paper towels for protection from the coldest parts of the refrigerator. For best results, eat it within five days.
5. Don’t store cucumbers or eggplant in the refrigerator.
You may be accustomed to tossing cucumbers and eggplant straight into your crisper drawer, but for the best flavor and shelf life, both prefer room-temperature environments. What’s the reasoning? According to the UC Postharvest Technology Center, eggplants are sensitive to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and susceptible to discoloration and other damage if kept too cold for somewhere between six and eight days. The same goes for cucumbers, but they can become damaged as soon as two or three days after refrigeration. It’s OK to store either in the refrigerator for up to three days, but be sure to use your produce right after removing it from refrigeration.
6. Don’t toss out old spring onions.
Spring onions have a shelf life of about seven to 10 days under refrigeration, but did you know you can regrow them if the roots are intact? “During your prep, cut off the bottom inch of the onion and put it in a cup of water and watch it grow,” said Yvette Cabrera, food matters project manager at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This is a great option for someone looking for a little summer DIY project that doesn’t require very much work. Plus, you’ll save some money, too.
7. Don’t wait too long to freeze berries.
Berries are well-loved for their flavor and beauty, but they spoil quickly. Typically, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are at their freshest for two to three days, while blueberries can last up to 10 days.
“If you see they’re on the verge of overripening, throw them into the freezer and use them in your smoothies at your leisure,” Cabrera said, adding that you can do the same with bananas—just remember to remove the peel before freezing.
And just because you notice some mold on a few berries doesn’t mean you need to toss the entire container. Simply pick through the berries and throw away the ones that have gone bad.
8. Don’t store herbs without water.
If you normally toss your herbs in the refrigerator and call it a day, you may want to rethink your strategy. Herbs can be stored similarly to a bouquet by sticking them in a glass of water and covering the top with a bag, Senesac said. A reusable cotton produce bag may get the job done, but it will depend on the product.
“With the glass of water, we’re trying to simulate the conditions of a greenhouse where humidity helps keep the product fresh longer,” said Andrea Spacht Collins, sustainable food systems specialist at NRDC. “You won’t get that same quality with a breathable bag, but you could do just as well with waxed paper or another airtight container.”
Most herbs require refrigeration, but basil is more sensitive to the cold and should be stored somewhere above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, such as your countertop.
9. Don’t store fruits and vegetables side by side.
Did you know it’s actually not a good idea to store fruits and vegetables beside one another at random? Most fruits produce a ripening hormone called ethylene that can cause other types of produce (both fruits and vegetables) that are ethylene-sensitive to quickly over-ripen or go bad.
For this reason, you’ll want to store ethylene-producing fruits (like apples, avocados, peaches and peppers) separately from ethylene-sensitive produce (like eggplant, lettuce, cucumbers and greens). You should also avoid storing ethylene-producing items in airtight containers, unless your intention is rapid ripening, as they could quickly become overripe or rot.
Keep in mind that some produce, like apples and avocados, both produce and are sensitive to ethylene.
Here’s a good list of which fruits and vegetables produce ethylene, which are sensitive to it and which aren’t.
10. Don’t store root vegetables without a bag.
“Beets, carrots and a lot of roots will keep for weeks or months even if they are in bags in the fridge instead of just loose in there,” Senesac said. “They need something like a bag to hold the moisture in.”
Other root vegetables include sweet potatoes, turnips, ginger, garlic, onions, fennel and radishes. Bags are also useful for keeping your produce separated and organized, as well as to keep produce from bruising on your way home. The bags don’t have to be plastic, either ― reusable cotton bags are effective too, Senesac said.
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