What we eat impacts both our physical and mental health, and the Western diet of highly-processed, high-sugar and high-fat food is being blamed for a myriad of problems from obesity and diabetes, to asthma, dementia, depression and even autism.

The sheer volume of processed, nutrient-poor foods available in supermarkets contributes to our unhealthy diets. High in sugar, cheap fats, additives, preservatives and fancy packaging, they’re devoid of anything that’s good for us, but turn a healthy profit for big business.

 Even the fruit and vegetable aisle is not what it seems. Fruit and vegetables are at their peak nutrition when they are picked ripe and eaten fresh, but this is rarely the case in the big supermarkets, where transportability and appearance have higher priority than nutrition.

We might assume that bright red tomato on the shelf is fresh and nutritious, but in fact it’s probably been picked green, transported hundreds of kilometres, stored, and then artificially ripened before it reaches the shelf. When you consider that fruit and vegetables begin losing nutrients from the moment they are picked, that week-old tomato starts to look a lot less appealing.

The good news is that there are alternatives to the big supermarkets.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables will give you the maximum health benefits of course, but even the most serious backyard grower will struggle to grow everything they need, and that’s where your local farmers’ market comes in.

Because the fruit and vegetables at the farmers’ markets are grown locally and picked hours – rather than days or weeks – before they reach you, they’ve experienced very little loss of nutrients.

Beyond fruit and vegetables, farmers’ markets also offer healthier versions of other foods – meat from antibiotic-free and/or grass-fed cattle, free-range eggs from chickens that have had access to healthy, natural diets, and breads made from more nutritionally-dense stoneground wholewheat flours.

Since transport and shelf life are not such a big issue, food producers do not need to add preservatives to their value-added goods, and products like fermented foods, which are so good for gut health, do not have to be pasteurised – a process which extends their shelf life but kills the beneficial bacteria.

It all adds up to fresher, less processed and more nutrient-dense food.

– Kate O’Neill