Extension offers tips, app for Fruit and Vegetable Month

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Specialist: 'Variety as important as quantity'

The summer month of June is a great time to celebrate the health and flavor that fresh fruits and vegetables offer, according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

"Variety can be as important as quantity because each vegetable or fruit has its unique signature of healthy components yet none provides all of the nutrients we need to stay healthy," she said.

The basic goal, according to Duitsman, should be to eat more vegetables and fruits. There are a variety of reasons to do so.

For starters, fruits and vegetables provide many nutrients, both traditional nutrients like vitamins A, C and K; potassium, fiber and magnesium; and also many phytonutrients that promote health beyond that of traditional nutrients.

A broad body of scientific evidence indicates that the risk of many types of diseases may be decreased by simply eating a variety of different produce. Such benefits include reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, reduced blood pressure, and even prevention of some types of cancer.

Fruits and veggies are low in calories. They also happen to be delicious, especially when in season, Duitsman said.

Eating more fruits and vegetables also makes it easy to follow the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which advise to reduce sodium, solid fats and refined grains, increase consumption of plant foods and fill half our plate with fruits and vegetables.

"There are several things you can do for yourself or family to making eating more fruits and vegetables a reality," Duitsman said.

First, make them the easy choice. Wash, cut up and package produce in easy-to-grab-and-go containers. Try doing this on the weekend so that you have healthy to-go snacks available throughout the week.

Keep fruit out where you can see it. A fruit basket on the table or counter is inviting and beautiful.

Add veggies to recipes, or try recipes that use only vegetables, substituting veggies for meat.

Use up vegetables that are starting to age by throwing them into a stir-fry for a delicious meal.

Visit the farmers' market or produce aisle with a goal to try something new each week.

When it comes to good nutrition, Duitsman says it is important to note that all forms of fruits and vegetables matter, fresh, frozen, and canned. There are pros and cons to each.

"Most frozen and canned foods today are harvested and preserved at their peak of ripeness, allowing them to retain their flavor and nutrients," said Duitsman. "Fresh produce tends to start losing nutrient value once it is picked. For canned foods, the heat processing may result in loss of some nutrients."

However, some phytonutrients, such as those in the carotenoid family, are more bioavailable after cooking, so may be present in higher quantities in canned produce. Minerals and fiber maintain their qualities whether heated or frozen.

"Bottom line, if we avoid frozen and canned options that contain added fats, sodium and sugars, studies have shown the differences in nutrient levels between fresh, frozen and canned are minor," Duitsman said. "The most nutritious and flavorful produce will be what is in-season, picked at the peak of ripeness, and eaten while still fresh. That is why locally-sourced produce, or produce from your garden, tastes so great."

Finding fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables is easy with University of Missouri Extension's Seasonal and Simple App. The app is free, also offers recipes and a resource library, and can be downloaded for iPhone and Android in your app store, or more information, can be found at http://tinyurl.com/y7dgkhyl. The app provides an excellent guide to finding, selecting, preparing and storing fresh fruits and vegetables in Missouri right from the palm of your hand.

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