The Importance of Produce in a Healthy Diet
For a quick nutritious snack, a deliciously healthy dessert, or even part of a creative meal, fruit rules. Similar to its neighbor in the produce section, fruit is naturally low in calories and fat (except for avocado and coconut), while chock-full of nutrients and fiber. Get in the habit of keeping a stash of fresh fruit. Although dried fruit is another tasty option, keep in mind that it is more concentrated in calories because it has less water than its fresh counterparts. Also, beware of canned (and sometimes frozen) fruit with “heavy syrup added”; these are packed with calories and sugar. When buying canned or frozen fruit, read the labels and look for key phrases such as “no added sugar,” “packed in its own juice,” “packed in 100% fruit juice,” or “unsweetened.”
What about fruit juice? It's certainly not a substitute for whole fruit (in fact, even the brands with pulp added will be lacking in dietary fiber), but fruit juice does provide nutrients and is clearly better than colas, sweetened iced-teas, or fruit punch. Go ahead and put a couple of juice containers in your shopping cart. When available, opt for the brands with added vitamin C or the calcium-fortified varieties.
Here are some helpful hints for shopping for fresh fruits:
- Apples provide potassium and fiber and are available in a bunch of varieties, including Red Delicious, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Empire, Washington, and Golden Delicious. Although each kind differs in seasonal availability, taste, and appearance, some general shopping savvy is to look for crisp, firm apples with a rich color (depending upon the type). Avoid apples with bruising, soft spots, or mealy flesh.
- Apricots provide a lot of vitamin A, iron, and some potassium and fiber. Look for apricots that have a golden orange color and appear to be plump and juicy. Avoid apricots that are dull-looking, mushy, or overly firm or that have a yellowish green color.
- Avocados provide vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Look for avocados that are slightly tender to the touch if you plan to eat them immediately. Otherwise, buy firm avocados and let them ripen at room temperature for a few days. Avoid any with broken surfaces or dark prominent spots.
- Bananas provide a lot of potassium and some vitamin A and fiber. Look for firm bananas that are either yellowish green (and will ripen in a few days) or fully yellow and ready to eat. In general, bananas have their best flavor when the solid yellow color is speckled with some brown. Avoid bananas that are bruised or have a gray appearance.
- Blueberries provide vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Look for plump, firm blueberries that are dark blue in color. Avoid berries that are mushy, moldy, or leaking.
- Cantaloupes provide vitamins A and C and potassium. Look for cantaloupes with rough skin that are slightly soft and flexible when you press on the top or bottom and that have a sweet, fresh odor. Avoid extremely hard cantaloupes (unless you want to wait for them to ripen) and any with moldy spots.
- Cherries provide vitamin A and potassium. Look for cherries with a dark red color, plump surfaces, and fresh stems. Avoid cherries that appear dull, shriveled, or dried.
- Grapefruits provide vitamins A and C and potassium. Look for firm, compact grapefruits that are heavy for their size. Do not worry about slight discoloration or skin scars; this usually does not interfere with the quality of taste. Avoid grapefruits that look extremely dull and lack color.
- Grapes provide some fiber and come in several color varieties. Look for rich-colored, plump grapes that are tightly attached to the stem. Avoid grapes that are shriveled and soft or that have brown, brittle stems.
- Kiwi fruit provides a lot of vitamin C and potassium. Look for plump kiwi fruit that yields slightly to the touch; this means it's ripe. You can ripen firm kiwi fruit at home by leaving it at room temperature for a few days. Avoid kiwi fruits that are super-soft or shriveled.
- Lemons provide vitamin C. Look for firm lemons with a rich, glossy yellow color. Avoid lemons with mold, punctures, or a dull, dark yellow coloring.
- Mangos provide vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber. Look for orangish-yellow to red mangos that are well developed and barely soft to the touch. Avoid mangos that are rock-hard or over-ripened and mushy.
- Nectarines provide vitamin A and potassium. Look for bright-colored, plump nectarines with orange, yellow, and red color combinations. Nectarines that are hard will ripen in a few days at room temperature. Avoid nectarines that are overly soft, lacking color, or show signs of decay.
- Oranges provide a lot of vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid. Look for firm, heavy oranges (because this indicates juiciness) with relatively smooth, bright-looking skin. Avoid oranges that are very light (no juice) or that have thick, coarse, or spongy skins.
- Peaches provide vitamin A and potassium. Look for peaches that are firm but slightly soft to the touch. Avoid greenish, hard peaches that are under-ripened and mushy peaches that are over-ripened.
- Pears provide potassium and fiber. Look for pears that are firm, but not too hard. The color depends on the variety. Bartletts are pale yellow to rich yellow, Anjou or Comice are light green to yellowish green, Bosc are greenish yellow to brownish yellow, and Winter Nellis are medium to light green. Avoid wilted or wrinkled pears with any distinct spots.
- Pineapples provide vitamin C and fiber. Look for pineapples that are plump, firm, and heavy for their size and that have a fragrant aroma. Avoid pineapples that appear dull, bruised, or dried, or that have an unpleasant smell.
- Raspberries provide vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Look for plump, tender berries with a rich, uniform scarlet color. Avoid berries that are mushy or have any mold.
- Strawberries provide a lot of vitamin C, along with potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Look for firm, red berries that still have the cap stem attached. Avoid berries that have large uncolored or seedy areas. Also avoid strawberries that have a shrunken appearance or any mold.
- Tangerines provide vitamins A and C. Look for deep yellow or orange tangerines with a bright luster (which indicates freshness and maturity). Avoid tangerines with a pale yellow or greenish color or punctures in the skin.
- Watermelon provides vitamin A and some vitamin C. For uncut watermelons, look for a smooth surface, well-rounded ends, and a pale green color. For cut watermelons, look for juicy flesh with a rich, red color that is free from white streaks. Avoid melons with a lot of white streaks running through pale colored flesh and light colored seeds.
More on: Children's Nutritional Needs
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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