Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Eat Fruits and Vegetables

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Eat your fruits and vegetables! You probably already know that you are supposed to eat plenty of fresh produce every day. Here are some compelling nutritional facts that tell you why, as well as information about just how to go about getting enough into your diet.
Fruits and vegetables supply many nutrients that are important for your health. For example, dark-colored berries contain proanthocyanidins which are potent antioxidants. These, in turn, scavenge free-radicals (which cause cell damage), slow aging, and fight cancer. The orange color of carrots and sweet potatoes indicate their high levels of beta-carotene which the body converts into vitamin A. This vitamin is important for healthy skin and eyes. Popeye's favorite, spinach, is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium. All fruits and vegetables supply the body with fiber needed for cholesterol regulation and proper bowel function.
Ok, so now you know why, but how? Whether you eat them raw or cooked, steamed or stir-fried, whole, chopped or mashed, it is best to start with fresh organic produce. Frozen is also good because the nutrients are fairly well preserved by freezing. Rather than getting too caught up in how many servings to eat, what constitutes a serving, or how many cups to eat for your caloric needs, I suggest you use the following helpful tips:
  • Emphasize vegetables in your meals, and choose fruits for snacks or dessert.
  • Eat the "rainbow"-Everyday choose fruits and vegetables that make a rainbow of at least 3 different colors.
  • Include dark green leafy vegetables every day.
  • The brightest and deepest colors indicate the highest levels of nutrients.
  • Eat a variety of plant parts: leaves, stems, roots, flowers and fruit.
  • At lunch and dinner, aim for half of your plate being vegetables. (And I don't mean french fries!)
One great way to be sure to have a fresh supply of organic and locally-grown produce is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here in California, we are lucky to have so many wonderful farms nearby. Many of them offer CSA programs that provide consumers with direct access to economical farm-fresh produce. By paying a membership fee of $15-25 per week, you will receive a box of produce as well as a newsletter with recipes and information about the farm. Typically, you would pay quite a bit more than this at the store for the same amount of food. This system provides the farmers with another way to reach consumers and helps them with the investments necessary to grow quality fruits and vegetables.
Each CSA is unique in their offerings. For example, there may be different sized boxes, weekly or biweekly delivery, home delivery or neighborhood pick up locations; some items like fruit or eggs may or may not be included; and the membership may be monthly or all season long. Whatever your needs, you can find a CSA that will work for you. Because CSAs provide a variety of in-season produce, you may be introduced to vegetables that you don't usually buy at the store. This is a great way to get in touch with nature's cycles, try new foods, build a relationship with your farmer, teach your children about where food comes from, support sustainable agriculture, and be sure that you eat your fruits and vegetables.

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