If there’s one thing that Chris Leahy looks forward to, it’s shopping at New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket. “Nothing beats walking in and seeing the first strawberries of the season or all the corn or tomatoes,” the executive chef at Manhattan restaurant Lyon enthuses. For him, fresh, locally farmed produce has the best flavor. “It’s been fully ripened naturally, and some of it is even picked that morning. You can taste it in the produce.”

 

Dietitian Gloria Tsang, founder of nutritionist network HealthCastle.com and author of “Go UnDiet,” says there’s another reason why fresher is better.

 

“Think about how it grows on a vine or plant. How do the vegetables and fruits get their nutrition? The longer it stays on the mother plant, the more vitamins it gains. If it’s picked when the plant is fully ripened, it has more nutrition. With produce that’s grown in [say] South America, it’s picked green and gassed later to ripen it. Then it sits in storage.”

 

Storage adds further damage to fruit and vegetables. Once picked, exposure to light, air and heat means vitamins and minerals start to be destroyed, even at a farm stand. For optimum nutrition, Tsang says, “Shop early in the morning: There’s less damage from sunlight and they have been handled less.”