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Fresh produce plays an important role in a healthy diet

Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2005

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We all know that “an apple a day helps keep the doctor away,” but the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released in January by the USDA drive home the importance of including a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.

The guidelines recommend nine servings of produce every day as part of a healthy diet – four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables. This is up from the previous recommendation of five servings a day.

“Fruits and vegetables are the powerhouse foods with mega-nutrition for few calories, and should be the cornerstone of any healthful diet,” says Kathy Means, vice president of the Produce Marketing Association. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber, potassium and anti-oxidants.

About now, you may be thinking, “sure, they’re good for me, but how in the world can I work that many servings of fruits and vegetables into my daily routine?” The good news is that it’s probably easier than it appears at first glance.

While nine servings of fruits and vegetables sounds like a lot, when you look at the total quantity of food involved, it becomes much more manageable. For example, four servings of fruit translates into two cups; five servings of vegetables works out to 2 1/2 cups. And if you’re filling up on fruits and vegetables, you’re much less likely to be craving a candy bar or chips.

Here are some tips for fitting those nine servings a day into your menu:

* Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. Now is a good time to expand your horizons and try something new, like root vegetables or ugli fruit.

* Try to include different colors of vegetables in your diet every day – red, as in peppers and tomatoes; green, such as spinach and kale; orange from carrots and squash; white from corn and cauliflower; and purple like eggplant.

* Make fruits and vegetables part of every meal. Have a glass of juice with breakfast, or add berries or bananas to your morning cereal. Add a salad to your lunch routine, and vegetable dishes to your dinner table.

* Fruits and vegetables are great as portable snacks. Grab an apple or some carrots on your way out the door.

* Smoothies are fun to make, tasty to drink and a good way to consumer fruits (and vegetables, too). Blend your fruit of choice with yogurt for a refreshing breakfast treat or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

The guidelines also advise consumers to practice safe food handling techniques. The Partnership for Food Safety Education has tips for the proper handling of fruits and vegetables at They include checking produce for bruising or damage before you buy it; cleaning your hands before handling produce, cleaning the produce, and cleaning all surfaces that produce will come into contact with; and separating produce from other foods such as raw meat, poultry and fish.

Along with the advice to eat more fruits and vegetables, the guidelines also recommend reduced calorie consumption, limiting fat intake, consuming less salt and increasing daily exercise. Don’t try to implement all these changes into your lifestyle at once. Incorporate them slowly so you won’t be overwhelmed. Over time, these changes will pay off in improved health and reduced risk for major chronic diseases.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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