Which fruits and vegetables are in season?
Summer brings an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to grocery stores, farmers’ markets and local gardens. That means more opportunities to add tasty and heart-healthy foods to your everyday meals.
Strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe and other seasonal produce taste good and help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. To take full advantage of the summer’s healthy selections, concentrate on color, said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, RD, and the incoming chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee.
“Get yourself out of your box,” Johnson said. “Really thinking about the color is so important.”
Deep green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce are better choices than lighter green vegetables, which add crunch to salads but aren’t as rich in nutrients.
Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables include mangos, peaches, squash and carrots. Think red with beets and strawberries or blue and purple with plums, blueberries and blackberries.
Beyond summer and into fall, consider pumpkins, autumn squash and cranberries for incorporating deep-colored, beneficial vegetables into your diet.
Fruits, Vegetables and Healthy Arteries
Research shows that these foods contain different classes of phytonutrients, natural components in plants that may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, said Johnson, the Robert L. Bickford professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont. Many fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, she said, and ultimately can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances on inner walls of arteries.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 4.5 cups per day of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy lifestyle that can help you avoid risks for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and stroke ranks fourth.
Eating enough fruits and vegetables also has other benefits: “The diet to reduce your risk for cancer is the same,” Johnson said.
Finding the Best Produce
Thanks to modern transportation, you can find an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables all year long. But the added costs of transporting produce long distances impacts the price. Buying in-season foods and foods grown closer to your home is generally better for your pocketbook.
The availability of varied produce at community-supported agriculture sites makes it easy to experiment with something new, especially in summer, said Johnson, who enjoys taking home different types of vegetables from her local site.
“I find myself trying things that I don’t always buy,” she said. “If you like to cook, there are so many great websites now with recipes.”
There’s nothing wrong with using frozen fruits and vegetables, which are often less expensive than fresh produce.
However, you should look for low-sodium vegetables and fruits with no added sugar or a minimal amount that are packed in their own juice, not heavy syrup. With frozen vegetables, select the plain variety, not those in high-calorie sauces.
You can also find fresh fruits and vegetables at restaurants. Many restaurants today offer apple slices and carrot sticks rather than fries. Salad bars _ minus the croutons, bacon and heavy dressings _ can provide healthy options.
“Americans tend to eat away from home a great deal,” she said. “Really think about fruits and vegetables when you’re away from home.”