An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it makes for a boring diet. When was the last time you ate a persimmon? Or a tangy star fruit? How about a nutty parsnip?
The latest government recommendations call for 1½ to 2 cups of fruit daily, plus 2½ to 3 cups of veggies daily. But if you are like most Americans, you are not eating nearly enough of either. These tips can help you get the most enjoyment - and nutrition - out of our nation's harvest:
Remember that healthy eating starts with mindful shopping. Stock up on fresh, seasonal produce, then keep it visible, either in a bowl on the table or cut into ready-to-eat pieces in the refrigerator.
For out-of-season produce, canned options are convenient, but read the labels to avoid added sugar or salt.
Top cereal or pancakes with berries, bananas, or peaches. Or, whip them into a fruit smoothie with some low-fat or soy milk.
If you eat on-the-go, favor low-maintenance vegetables, like salad greens or celery stalks. Tangerine or mandarin orange wedges can enliven a green salad.
Kiwifruit, plums, baby carrots, and bananas (yes, and apples too) are tasty, easy to carry, and healthier than most snack bars, many of which are too high in calories.
Micro-waving is quick, but research shows that it kills up to 97% of the antioxidants that you want from vegetables. Boiling is not much better, destroying 2/3rds of these key nutrients, reducing broccoli and summer squash into a mushy fiber source.
Steaming veggies is also quick and easy, and it preserves the most nutrients. An inexpensive bamboo or metal steamer over a half-inch of simmering water makes your veggies hot, but still crisp and vitamin-rich. Steamed veggies are usually done when the colors brighten. Serve with a light dressing or with lemon juice, freshly ground pepper and even a sprinkling of walnuts or slivered almonds.
Grilling veggies adds flavor and sweetness while retaining crispness. To grill veggies, slice thickly: quarter bell peppers, or slice zucchini length-wise so they are easy to turn. Or skewer smaller pieces along with garlic cloves and grape tomatoes for tasty kabobs. An oil-and-vinegar marinade complements the natural flavors, minimizes charring, and keeps everything from sticking.
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