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By Lori Nickel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

Trainers and nutritionists generally agree on this theory: Our weight and our waistlines are determined 80 percent by what we eat and 20 percent by our amount of exercise and activity.

My summer resolution is to start shopping at farmers markets. I don’t, usually, because I’m too busy and that’s just another stop to make, but it’s time to reconsider. I’m tired of buying pale and flavorless strawberries from the store that were shipped from drought-stricken California when I would rather support local farmers anyway.

I just need to get over some of the higher prices.

So I asked Nicole Fasules, a certified personal trainer and registered dietitian at Milwaukee’s Way of Life Nutrition & Fitness who also works with professional athletes, to come with me to a farmer’s market recently in downtown Milwaukee.

I peppered her with questions as we picked up pea pods.

Q. What do you look for first whenever you’re at a farmers market?

A. The greens, for sure, because I eat those every day.

Q. I used to think I just felt better in the summer because of more sunlight and vitamin D, but even I eat more fruits and vegetables now because they’re in season. Could I be feeling better because I’m eating a little better?

A. Absolutely. Fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are a very high in vitamin C and antioxidants. A lot of our fruits and vegetables help to oxygenate the blood, which is great, because that aids in energy production. It’s cool how you can minimally take in a little more fruits and vegetables and feel such a great difference. That’s how powerful real, fresh food is.

Q. What’s the biggest difference between organic and regular produce _ besides the price?

A. There are some foods that are an absolute must to buy organic. I do not believe everything has to be organic but because of the amount of pesticides that are needed for certain crops, there are certain things that are wiser to choose organic: anything that has an edible skin. All your berries, all your greens. Celery, bell peppers are big ones. Apples are really big.

Things that don’t need to be organic: bananas. Nothing permeates through the peel. Avocado. Just rinse this off as much as possible because you are putting a knife through it. Pesticides actually stay in our body for some time and they collect in our fat tissue. They eventually leave our body through the detoxification process.

Q. So pesticides are a superficial thing? It doesn’t get in to the root system and into the fruit or vegetable, it is just sprayed on the outside?

A. It can be both, depending on how it’s done. Now, not all of the farmers markets produce is pesticide free. I wouldn’t trust that it is. You have to ask. What I like about organic food is that it has to get to people faster. It will go bad quicker.

The conventional bell pepper could have been on a truck for two weeks before you got it and another week before you decided to do something with it. And the nutrients aren’t there. Organic, local food will have less shipping and more nutrients in it. It will also have far more flavor

Q. It won’t be long before we’re talking about the Wisconsin State Fair and the food. The whole point of the state fair beginning in 1851 was to showcase our agricultural bounty. But now the fair is known just as much for the crazy foods. You called it a science experiment two years ago. How do you feel about the food now?

A. It’s pretty crappy. I’ve tried it. I tried a fried cookie dough thing once. I’m not going to finish something like that. I’m going to buy it, I’m literally going to take a bite out of it to see what it tastes like and I’m going to throw it away. Let me see what this tastes like because it is crazy, and I want to experience that. But it’s not giving me anything that’s usable to my body, so I certainly don’t want to keep exposing my body to it.

Q. I can’t do that. At Summerfest, sharing a sampler platter, I had a hard time throwing away the last French fries because I paid $9 for the plate.

A. You’ve got to let go of that. You’ll never get value for eating that. It’s not about value. Do we really get value out of purchasing $8 coffee? No. I don’t need this in my body. I don’t go to these places to eat _ I eat a meal before, or I go out to eat after.

Q. I want to talk about that. The value of food. Every parent knows you can go to a grocery store and buy hot dogs, buns, chips, baked beans and soda and feed a family of four for less than $20. It’s hard for families on a budget to shop at farmers markets or buy organic.

The only way I can justify paying so much more is when I look at the long-term effects of eating unhealthy, I guess, and what that costs us in medical bills, health insurance and even things like treating depression. But it’s hard to always connect those dots between this grocery purchase and that annual physical exam. How do you convince someone that the real value is eating good food and not cheap food?

A. It is hard with a family. You have to think about what you’re getting from your food. And how are you really feeling after you eat it? Most people don’t know what it feels like to feel good. They just accept feeling bad. You really have to consider what you got from the hot dog and chips. It’s not giving us anything that is usable to our bodies. That’s clear how ill people are, how achy people are. We deserve quality. Why aren’t we choosing quality?

Q. I still struggle with it. It’s almost like we have to re-evaluate our living expenses. It’s not: house payment or rent, car payment, cellphone, cable, insurance, clothes, entertainment and then groceries. It’s as if food has to rank higher.

A. Exactly. Are our priorities so whacked out? Food is a priority. You’ve got to fuel your body the way it needs, and deserves, to be fueled. Of course it’s challenging to eat good produce on a budget, but I feel that’s what makes farmers markets so much better.

You’re getting fresher food and more nutrients. I will get philosophical here. We are consuming our choices. You buy cable, for what? Crap TV. It fills your mind with crappy things and it makes you feel crappy about yourself. Why do we do that? Why are we spending money on that? Why aren’t we doing Ironmans or things that make us feel 12 years old again without any aches and pains after it? Doesn’t that bring you joy more than another … Kardashian episode? It’s all about your choices. Do you want to fill yourself up with positivity? That makes you feel amazing? Or do you want to fill yourself up with junk?

Photo by Luke Jones via Flickr

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