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Picking Up Healthy Produce for a Plant-Based Diet

When you first enter a grocery store, you more than likely find yourself right in the produce section, amongst all the colorful fruits and vegetables that you should fill your cart with. So go ahead — start your shopping trip out right there by grabbing your usuals — whatever you’re most comfortable with already (maybe things like carrots, broccoli, and bananas).

Next, explore new terrain. Perhaps that means venturing over to that corner that’s filled with lots of green bunches of leaves (it’s okay if you’re a little intimidated). Just get to know them — a lot of them look similar, but they are indeed different.

Check the labels above and below them and get used to noticing what kale, collards, Swiss chard, and dandelion look like. Compare their colors, leaf shapes and sizes, and stems. Each of them holds different possibilities for you. These will become your new friends as you start to round out your plant-based diet.

If you’re feeling a little lost, don’t be afraid to ask a grocery worker for help. They know a lot about what each piece of produce is, what it does, and how to cook it.

Also on the labels, you may notice a note about where the items come from. Now, this is the tricky (and sometimes unfortunate, depending on where you live) part, as you want to buy items that are grown close to where you live — ideally within the same country.

If you live far from where fresh produce grows, at least aim for items that are closest. You can only do the best you can with where you are.

Finally, when it comes to choosing organic versus local produce, just use your best judgment. To help you, the Environmental Working Group, an organization that provides information to protect public health and the environment, has done a fabulous job of outlining two lists, called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. They help consumers determine the best, safest produce to buy.

  • The Dirty Dozen Plus: This list started with 12 items but has increased to 14. These types of produce are the biggest carriers of pesticides and chemical residues that can harm your health. When you buy these foods, you want to buy them in organic form and not in conventionally grown versions (as much as possible). If you do buy them conventionally once in a while, be sure to wash them well.

    • Apples

    • Celery

    • Cherry tomatoes

    • Collard greens

    • Cucumbers

    • Grapes

    • Kale

    • Nectarines

    • Peaches

    • Peppers

    • Potatoes

    • Spinach

    • Strawberries

    • Summer squash

    Chemical residues and pesticides don’t only reside on skins and peels; they’re embedded within most parts of the fruit or vegetable.

  • The Clean Fifteen: On the other hand, this is the produce that’s okay to eat conventionally (that is, it doesn’t have to be organic) in moderation, as it carries the least amount of pesticides and chemical residues:

    • Asparagus

    • Avocados

    • Cabbage

    • Cantaloupe

    • Eggplant

    • Grapefruit

    • Kiwi

    • Mangos

    • Mushrooms

    • Onions

    • Papaya

    • Pineapples

    • Sweet corn

    • Sweet peas

    • Sweet potatoes

Please note that these lists change from year to year. Keep up to date with the most current lists at Environmental Working Group.

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