This is always a hot topic of discussion - is it better to buy your fruit and veg from a supermarket, fresh grocer or to grow your own?
With thanks to the team at Coach:
There's nothing more disappointing than a sour mango or bland strawberry from a big chain supermarket. But does that mean they're less nutritious?
The truth is that this is actually the wrong question to be asking...
There are plenty of stories of people avoiding supermarkets' fresh produce — choosing local grocers, delivery boxes or farmers' markets instead.
For some, there are ethical reasons, for others it's about taste, and some believe that you're less likely to get the most nutritious produce at Coles or Woolies.
But is there any truth to the claims?
Farm size is not the problem
Buying produce from a quaint local farm or growing it in your backyard might seem to be a more healthful choice — but experts say it's the soil quality and growing conditions, not the size of the operation, that will make the most difference to the nutritional make-up of the end product.
"Geography can play a part and the genotype, or variety of the plant you are growing, does make some difference to the macronutrients you get," Dr Beth Penrose, University of Tasmania Pasture Science Lecturer, tells Coach.
"It's not the scale [of the farm] that is the crux of the issue. Whether it's done on a large industrial scale or a small scale has little to do with the quality or the nutritional value."
Dr Kim-Yen Phan-Thien, University of Sydney food science lecturer, says the biggest determinants for the nutrient profile of a particular fruit or vegetable are genetic, environmental and management variations.
"A plant under stress might produce more phenolic compounds as a response to something like insect damage," she tells Coach.
"Then you've got variation due to management, where applying a fertiliser might change its growth pattern or withholding water, in the case of something like grapes, might cause them to be sweeter."
But while farming practices can alter the produce that ends up in your vegie crisper, accredited practising dietitian Lauren McGuckin points out that it's impossible for anyone outside of a lab to test the nutritional profile of each item they're purchasing.
"No one walking into a supermarket is going to know what the nutrient density of the soil was where the fruit or vegetable was grown," says McGuckin, who is a spokesperson for the Dietitian's Association of Australia.
Food miles matter
The fresher your produce, the best chance of it retaining maximum vitamins and minerals. So whether you're shopping in a big supermarket or a small grocer, finding things grown as close to home is a good idea.
"If [the fruit or vegetable] has travelled less of a distance, they're going to get to stores a lot sooner and their nutritional value is going to hold itself a lot better than something that's come from, say, California, which has probably been in cold storage and taken weeks to get here," McGuckin says.
"If you can buy local, it means it's travelled less and it's likely much more fresh, and therefore the nutrients are at their optimum levels. "
Vitamin C is particularly sensitive to ageing and reduces in potency the longer the produce is off the tree or out of the ground.
"[Vitamins] have differing sensitivity to oxygen, light and heat, and tend to naturally degrade over time after harvest," Dr Phan-Thien says.
"So if you leave something like leafy greens, which are high in vitamin C when you harvest them, in the fridge for a couple of days or a week, the vitamin C levels drop."
For this reason, it's a good idea to look for firm, fresh, unwilted produce that is not discoloured or soggy – and eat locally grown stuff where possible.
The only exception to the fresh-is-best rule is frozen fruits and vegetables, which McGuckin says are frozen immediately after picking so that they retain maximal nutrition.
If it's tastier, you'll probably eat more
The blander the produce, the less we're likely to want to eat it, so if buying from a local grocer or farmer's market gets you eating more, then that gets the dietitian's tick of approval.
"If you're buying something from a big supermarket and it tastes like absolute rubbish, you're not going to buy it again," McGuckin points out.
"Ultimately it's got to taste good as well."
With only 8 percent of Australians eating the recommended two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day, McGuckin says we need to worry less about individual nutritional variations and more about packing our plates with colour.
"Whether you buy organic from farmers' markets or from the supermarket, people just need to eat fruit and vegetables," she says.
"They are a fantastic source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Yes the composition is going to change depending on the soils and the variety of the fruit or vegetable, but [I say] we just need to eat it."
Dr Katherine Kent, University of Tasmania nutrition researcher, agrees eating fruit and vegetables, regardless of where you source them, is one of the best things you can do for your health.
"We have some of the best fruits and veggies grown in the world here in Australia," she tells Coach.
"When you compare fruit and vegetables to other less-healthy foods that Australians eat, it would be incorrect to say that the fruit and vegetables don't have good nutrition.
"Don't stop eating fruits and vegetables if you're worried about the quality of your foods – you need to eat more fruits and vegetables, regardless of the methods in which the foods were grown."