Summer’s bounty of fruits and vegetables does more than tempt your taste buds; it can have a powerful impact on your health.

When you have more choices, there’s a greater chance that you’ll eat more produce. And that’s likely to lead to a lower risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, most cancers, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

To maximize the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, make these four easy changes to the way you shop for, prep, and store your produce.

Be Savvy About Organics

When you buy organic, you may reduce your potential exposure to pesticides and support a way of farming that’s good for the planet.

But an analysis by Consumer Re­ports’ scientists also has good news for people who find that organic produce is too expensive or difficult to find. The report identified 23 conventional fruits and vegetables considered low risk for pesticide residue.

Many summer favorites (blueberries, cherries, raspberries, and watermelon, for instance) are on the list. But you might want to consider buying organic when it comes to nectarines, peaches, and peppers (sweet or hot) because they have a higher pesticide risk.

Know When to Cook It

“Vitamins and minerals are lost when some foods are heated,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads Consumer Reports’ food lab. “But for some fruits and vegetables, cooking makes the nutrients more available, so your body absorbs them better.”

Cooking asparagus, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and peppers boosts levels of several antioxidants. And research has found that your body can extract more cancer-fighting lycopene from tomatoes if they’re cooked.

Make Them Last

Consumers throw away more than a quarter of the fruits and vegetables they buy. Yet there are several ways to prevent produce from shriveling up and rotting before you can eat it.

Temperature and humidity are two key factors. Asparagus, broccoli, carrots, celery, lettuce, and spinach should be stored under cold, moist conditions. Put them in plastic bags that have holes, then in your refrigerator’s high humidity drawer. Stored that way, broccoli and spinach can last up to two weeks, lettuce up to three weeks, and carrots up to five months.

Also, keep fruits and veggies separate. Many fruits, including apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, peaches, and plums, produce ethylene gas as they ripen, which can make other produce spoil faster­.

(For more tips, see our in-depth report on food waste.)

Buy Local, Wisely

When food shopping, two-thirds of Americans check to see whether what they’re buying is locally produced, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. That’s a good thing.

“Fruits and vegetables are often the most attractive and health-promoting when harvested at the peak of maturity,” says Diane M. Barrett, Ph.D., a specialist in the department of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis.

Because it doesn’t have to travel as far to reach your table, local produce can be picked when it’s ready, which increases the benefits of the fruits and veggies. But “local” isn’t a regulated term; each market can have its own definition.

Nor does it automatically mean that an item is certified organic. Organic produce should be labeled as such. Ask the seller how he or she defines local.

Get Creative to Get Enough

According to the latest data from the Department of Agriculture, Americans still aren’t eating enough produce: only about 60 percent of the recommended amount of veggies, and about 40 percent of the recommended fruits.

In general, adults should be getting between 1.5 and 2 cups of raw fruit per day, and 2 to 3 cups of raw or cooked vegetables. 

Here are a few tips on how to get enough:

  • Grill fruit, which concentrates its sweetness. Try nectarines, peaches, pineapple, or plums with a little yogurt or ice cream.
  • When making a salad, think “entrée” and prepare several servings. And go beyond lettuce and tomatoes. Try including other nutrient- and flavor-rich greens such as arugula or kale. Add protein with legumes and seeds, or even lean meats like chicken.
  • Add veggies wherever you can, to chili, omelets, pasta dishes, smoothies, and soups.
  • Don’t forget chickpeas, lentils, and other kinds of beans, which count as vegetable servings.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.