Fresh fare, straight from the farm… what could be better for your waistline and your health? When you stick to fruits and vegetables (and maybe some meat or eggs), shopping at the farmers market is a great healthy eating strategy. After all, local, seasonal, and organic food can be higher in nutrients, and eating tons of produce is key to maintaining a healthy weight.
But that healthy vibe can make less nutritious food seem more diet-friendly than it actually is (a phenomenon called a health halo). In fact, one study found that while farmers markets can help get fruits and vegetables into needy areas, they also offer a lot of junk. Wherever you live, these smart diet tips from chef and certified holistic health counselor Pamela Salzman can help you have the healthiest possible farmers market experience-and avoid those weight-gain traps. (First tip? Stocking up on the 10 Fruits and Vegetables in Season During April.)
Watch the Samples
"If you're trying to lose weight, you need to be mindful of calories," says Salzman. It's easy to eat a bunch of samples and not even remember what you ate! A couple of apple slices isn't going to harm your waistline, but bites of cheese and charcuterie, dips on pita chips, and honey, oil, and other condiment samples on pieces of bread can add up quickly.
One advantage the grocery story has: nutrition labels. And while the calorie count of broccoli or apples isn't going to change based on where you buy them, baked goods and other prepared foods can vary wildly. "In this healthy environment, you feel virtuous and may not realize how many calories or grams of sugar something has," says Salzman. Don't be afraid to ask questions about how something was prepared or how many people it should serve. (Make sure your farmer's market goods don't contain any of the 7 Crazy Food Additives You Probably Missed on the Nutrition Label.)
Watch the Baked Goods
Chocolate chip muffins are basically cake-even when you buy them at the market. Doughnuts, pies, and other sweet treats don't get a free pass either. And when it comes to bread, Salzman says that she sees a lot of white breads, baguettes, croissants, and other less-than-stellar carb options at the market.
Remember Portion Control
When you're eating local, organic food, you have to remember that it still has calories! For example, Salzman says that her local market has amazing nut butters-and that it's especially easy to overdo it on those (nut butters typically pack about 100 calories per tablespoon). So even though these foods are good for you, remember that they're only good for you in small amounts.
Stick to Water
"The lemonade-especially watermelon lemonade-always looks so clean, fun, wholesome, and fresh in those gorgeous glass vats," says Salzman. "But really, they're just sugar dissolved in water." Don't spend your calories on sugary drinks. (Or quench your thirst with these 8 Infused Water Recipes to Upgrade Your H2O.)
Eat Before You Go
Between the smell of kettle corn wafting over the market and the sight of all of your favorite cheeses in one place, the market can be sensory overload. And if you're hungry, you'll start buying treats and sampling the goods-and will have scarfed 600 calories or more before you know it. Don't shop on an empty stomach!