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Piling on the Best Fruits and Veggies
Scientists and nutritionists continue to stress the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables – and of getting more out of the fruits and vegetables that we eat.
Most of us eat diets that are too heavy on fats, sugar, starch and carbohydrates. Even when we eat fruits and vegetables, we tend to avoid the ones that have the most valuable nutrients.
Fruits and vegetables provide us with important vitamins and minerals, some of which are difficult to get from other foods. Some of these nutrients, called antioxidants, may help the body fight damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals, which may cause cancer as well as other illnesses. In addition, fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and may also help prevent some kinds of cancer. Fiber also helps with weight loss by making you feel more full after eating.
Still, all fruits and vegetables are not created equal. And unfortunately, many of the ones we grew up eating are not as good for us as some others. In order to get the most out of your fruits and vegetables, experts suggest, go for color.
Red apples, for example, contain lots of antioxidants. And Red Delicious apples, which are the most popular kind of apples, are an especially good source. But most of the antioxidants can be found in the skin, so be sure to wash the apple carefully and eat it, skin and all.
In general, nutritionists urge everyone to pile on the more colorful fruits and vegetables. For example, orange vegetables, such as butternut squash and carrots, have extremely high levels of Vitamin A. Dark leafy greens, such as collard greens, endive, mustard greens and spinach, are very high in folate, a B vitamin that may help prevent some birth defects.
The Centers for Disease Control suggest that every day, everyone should eat something from each of the five color groups:
Red: Fruits and vegetables that are deep red -- including tomatoes, red and pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya, red peppers, etc. – contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
Green: Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value, but the darker green vegetables are full of antioxidants, as well as other vitamins and fiber. In the green group, consider choices like spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens. Leafy greens also are a good source of folate.
Orange and yellow: Orange vegetables contain beta-carotene, a natural antioxidant that researchers think may help bolster the immune system. Carrots are an obvious choice, of course, but don' forget sweet potatoes, mangos and apricots. In addition, this group also contains high levels of vitamin C and folate. Yellow fruits and vegetables also are rich in Vitamin C and manganese.
Blue and purple: This group is high in antioxidants as well as other good-for-you nutrients. Scientists are studying whether anthocyanins, a phytochemical that gives these foods their blue color, may play a role in defending your body against carcinogens. Plus, they make everything else on your plate look prettier.
White: These vegetables, which include onions as well as chives, scallions, leeks and garlic, contain a nutrient called allicin, which scientists think may help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as help the body fight infections. In addition, scientists are studying whether some phytochemicals in cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and similar vegetables in the cabbage family might inhibit the growth of some kinds of cancers.
So how can you add these vegetables to your daily diet? Start each day off with a glass of orange juice or a red grapefruit. Throw some blueberries onto your cereal in the morning, or mix some in yogurt for lunch. Use dark greens when making your salads, and add onion, peppers (especially red and yellow) and tomatoes. Snack on baby carrots or raisins.
Be adventurous. Branch out from apples, oranges and bananas and try a mango, a kiwi, bok choy or jicama. Cut up a fresh pineapple. Munch on clementines.
Be sure to take full advantage of seasonal fruits. For example, cherries, strawberries and blueberries are excellent sources of antioxidants as well as other important vitamins. Apricots are packed with Vitamin A. These fruits are abundant and delicious during their spring and summer seasons, and they can be put on cereal, mixed in with salads, served with ice cream or just eaten all by themselves. Autumn favorites include the nutrient-rich squashes, like acorn and butternut – and of course, pumpkin.
You can enjoy these foods year-round, imported from warmer climates; frozen, canned, dried or juiced; or as an addition to other prepared foods. But they are especially delightful when they are fresh and in season.