Strawberry season is upon us, and nothing says the beginning of summer quite like fresh, ruby-red berries on top of cereal, salads and, of course, strawberry shortcake. But, more than just the delightful sign that summer is on its way, strawberries, as with all berries, are a nutritious powerhouse filled with beneficial nutrients.
While eating a variety of all fruits and vegetables is extremely important, the benefits are further emphasized by choosing those with deep-colored pigments. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries; sweet potatoes, red peppers, broccoli, spinach, and kale are just a few of the numerous deep-colored fruits and vegetables that come to mind. Sweet potatoes are considered one of the healthiest vegetables in the world, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest article titled, “10 Best Foods,” which ranks sweet potatoes as the No. 1 food with their high vitamin A, fiber and potassium content.
But what makes these vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables so good for us? It is due to their high nutrient-density, meaning that each bite of these foods packs a powerful punch of disease-fighting nutrients. To further explain this concept, it means that these foods are rich sources of the essential nutrients the body needs to function well and fight off disease.
MyPlate, the USDA’s Food Guidance System, which was updated in December 2020 with the newest dietary guidelines, recommends that all Americans enjoy a nutrient-rich diet by making every bite count to promote better health and fight off disease. Plants including fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils and minimally processed whole grains, are among the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet, so it is imperative that these foods are included in every American’s diet. Just by simply eating more fruits and vegetables as part of a healthful diet, the risk of many chronic diseases decreases.
According to USDA’s MyPlate website, many Americans’ diets lack adequate intake of essential nutrients, which fruits and vegetables can easily supply, including potassium, vitamin C, folate and dietary fiber. MyPlate further describes the roles of these essential nutrients in the body: potassium is instrumental in blood pressure regulation; vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals; and dietary fiber can help reduce constipation, blood cholesterol, and the risk of heart disease. Folate is essential for DNA and cell replication, especially in pregnancy, as described by the National Institutes of Health’s 2021 folate fact sheet. These are only some of the many functions of these essential nutrients, and there are many more nutrients supplied by eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Enjoy Seasonal Fruit
On average, American adults and children, both male and female, require 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups of fruit each day to meet the USDA MyPlate recommendations. Choosing a variety of whole fruits of all colors will ensure a range of nutrients, and eating the edible peels of apples, peaches and pears will provide their full dose of fiber and nutrients. MyPlate provides recommendations for the daily amounts to consume for all food groups, which is available online in an individualized plan at https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan.
As summer approaches and local, seasonal fruits become readily available, it may be easier to meet those daily recommendations, but being intentional about food choices is necessary to make every bite count. Without adequate planning, a day can easily go by without meeting daily intake goals for fruits and vegetables. If fruits do not routinely make it into meals, make a conscious effort to add them at other times throughout the day. Make fruit an afternoon snack and dessert of choice and find new ways to incorporate fruits into meals. Fruit adds a refreshing burst of flavor and color to salads, cereals and even some main dishes. For example, pineapple is delicious in stir-fry and is an easy way to incorporate a serving of fruit with a meal.
Have fun finding new ways to eat more fruits and vegetables each day, and plan specific ways to make it happen. Plan to pick-your-own berries, cherries and apples as they come in season throughout the summer as a fun outdoor activity that encourages healthful foods.
Enjoy the fresh bounty of the season as strawberries, spinach, asparagus and rhubarb are some of the early harvest crops in Pennsylvania and a sure sign that summer produce is on its way. There is nothing quite like fresh seasonal produce to make healthy eating a treat.