NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Summer-the season of fruits and vegetables!

summer, fruits, vegetables, healthy diet, nutrients

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Most of us should eat between 2½ to 6½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day depending on age, gender, and activity level. Many of us, however, don’t get enough. Eating fruits and vegetables is one of the most positive health habits that adults, youth, and children can adopt.

Virtually all national health organizations emphasize that people who eat a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits as part of a healthy diet are likely to experience many different health benefits. People who eat more fruits and vegetables have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Research also suggests that fruits and vegetables may help in preventing and treating heart disease and high blood pressure.

Try these tips to enjoy more fruits and vegetables:

  • Buy and prepare more fruits and vegetables. Keep canned and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand. Buy fresh produce in season and freeze for use during colder months.
  • Eat a variety of fruits — fresh, frozen, canned, or dried — rather than drinking juice.
  • Add corn, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, or beans to soups and stews.
  • Top sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, and other vegetables.
  • Add bananas or berries to cereal or yogurt.
  • Make fruit smoothies for a quick breakfast or snack.

Nutrients in fruits and vegetables start to break down after harvest. This loss of nutrients can be minimized by proper storage or processing. Frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice products are processed just after harvesting to "lock in" the freshness of just-picked produce. After purchase, proper storage and handling of fruits and vegetables will help retain nutrients.

Storing fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator will prolong their shelf life and slow down the spoilage process. It is best not to wash fruits or vegetables until you are ready to consume them to reduce spoilage and mold growth.

The three natural destroyers of vitamins in fruits and vegetables are heat, light, and oxygen. However, cooking and storing methods can help retain nutrients. Here's how:

  • Limit storage time. Fresh is best when it comes to taste and nutrition.
  • Store fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator to slow spoilage. However, tomatoes are an exception. Their flavor is destroyed in the refrigerator. Hold them at room temperature. If you want to store produce items for a longer time, consider freezing them.
  • Cook minimally. Steam vegetables briefly until just crisp-tender. For example, asparagus and broccoli should retain their glorious bright green color. Water-soluble nutrients are destroyed with prolonged cooking time. If you do cook vegetables in water, those nutrients will leach into the cooking liquid, so try to use the cooking liquids in soups and stews.
  • Avoid slicing vegetables too far in advance. When we slice into a vegetable or fruit, we expose the cut surfaces to heat, light, and oxygen — the nutrient destroyers. Better to wait to slice foods until we are ready to cook and eat them.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2005. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Retrieved from http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines

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