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Increase fruit intake for optimal health

July 06, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

You've probably seen headlines like these: Fruits and vegetables lower cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. Strawberries and watermelon help prevent prostate problems.

There's no doubt that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is good for you. The problem is that most Americans just aren't getting enough fruit for optimal health and well-being.

Summer is the perfect season to get into the fruit habit. Many fresh fruits are less expensive and easily available in grocery stores and farmers markets. You can follow steps for getting your daily dose of delicious, nutrient-rich fruits - fresh, frozen, canned or dried:

Enjoy two to three servings of whole fruit every day. Fruit is a fabulous treat for your health and taste buds. Sweet, juicy, brightly colored and oh so good for you, you can't go wrong with fruit. Getting the fruit benefits that your body craves can be easy. Just enjoy two to three servings of fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruit every day. Whole fruit, rather than juice, has the benefit of more fiber and fewer calories. Check out MyPyramid.gov for tips on including fruit in your daily diet.

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Confused about fruit serving sizes? It's easier than you think. A serving equals one medium piece of fruit (an apple or pear), 1/2 cup of cut-up fruit (kiwi or pineapple) and 1/4 cup dried fruit (raisins, craisins or figs).

Enjoy a rainbow of fruit colors. Color is the key to great taste and good health in fruit. Brightly colored fruits are generally riper and sweeter and they also tend to have the most nutrient value. If you eat all the colors of the rainbow, you'll be getting the biggest nutrition bang per bite. The very best way to get all the advantages of fruit is to eat a variety of colors every day. Include blue (plums and blueberries), orange/yellow (peaches, pineapple and tangerines), and red (strawberries, watermelon and ruby grapefruit) often.

The health "magic" of fruits comes from antioxidants. These plant compounds do everything from boosting brainpower to fighting heart disease. Every fruit - from apples to watermelon - has a different, healthful mix of these powerful nutrients.

Enjoy fruit throughout the day. Think half a grapefruit or berries in your cereal for breakfast; think a banana or pear with lunch; think baked apples or a fruit salad as a sweet dessert with dinner; and think any fruit for a refreshing snack.

Fruit is especially good for on-the-go snacks. Whether you are headed out on a hike or just driving around town, grab a piece of delicious fresh fruit as you go out the door. A bag of dried fruit (Mother Nature's fast food) is perfect to slip into a backpack, purse or computer bag. Now you can even find fruit in the drive-through lane. Check out the fruit cups, bowls and salads at your favorite fast-food restaurant.

Summer fruits and summer hikes are a perfect fitness combo, so grab some fruit and take a hike. The fastest path to high-energy health is always healthy eating plus physical activity.

For more information about fruits and the My Pyramid recommendations, go to www.MyPyramid.gov on the Web or send a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Fruit."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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