Crash Course on Fruits and Veggies

Pop Quiz Time

Okay everyone, pull out a pen and paper and remove everything from your desks. It’s time for a pop quiz. The topic? Fruits and veggies. First question: Bananas are one of the best natural sources of __________? Question number two: Berries rank as one of nature’s best sources of __________? Third, and final, question: Broccoli is a member of the __________ family?

Now please exchange your paper with your neighbor for grading. The answers are as follows: 1) Potassium; 2) Insoluble fiber; and 3) Mustard.

Well, how’d you do? If you only got number one right, it might be time to take a simple crash course on fruits and vegetables — you know, those “healthy foods” you’re always telling your kids to eat so they’ll grow up to be big and strong.

Nature’s Candy

Apples — Although it’s not literally true that an apple a day will keep the doctor away, apples do benefit the body tremendously. Their primary healing benefit is to your lower digestive tracts because they contain a concentrated amount of pectin, a highly soluble fiber. They can also help dieters because they curb the appetite with a combination of fiber and natural fruit sugars. (And the best part is, there are so many different types of apples that you are almost guaranteed to find at least one variety that suits your taste.)

Apricots — This fruit is so rich in beta carotene — the nutrient your body converts into vitamin A — that some experts say apricots pack the nutritional punch of vegetables. Studies at the National Cancer Institute show beta carotene has great cancer prevention benefits. Apricots are one of the few fruits we generally eat dried instead of fresh. (Did you know that only about 20 percent of commercially harvested apricots go on sale fresh? The rest wind up canned, dried, or frozen.)

Bananas — Many of us are aware that bananas are rich in potassium. One reason potassium is important to the human body is that it helps control blood pressure. (Extra tip: Once bananas are bright yellow and ready to eat, you can refrigerate them to prevent further ripening. This will cause the skin to turn black, but don’t worry — the inside will remain fresh.)

Berries — Berries are nature’s idea of a low-calorie sweet, but they contain a supply of fiber you’ll never find in candy or baked goods. When buying berries, make sure they are firm and soft — wet berries will not last long.

Cherries — Here we have the perfect munchie because they crunch and taste sweet but they force you to slow down and discourage gorging because of the pits. Cherries are low in fat, but high in iron and fiber. They make for an excellent laxative. Interestingly, some dental research has shown that cherry juice can help prevent tooth decay and cavities.

Grapefruit — This traditional breakfast fruit is high in pectin (the special fiber linked to the lowering of cholesterol and fat), vitamin C and potassium.

Grapes — Grapes are high in magnesium, which can help prevent heart disease, regulate blood pressure and promote good digestion. They also stimulate the kidneys and bladder, and are soothing to the nervous system. Dark grapes are high in iron, which means they fortify the blood.

Mangos — These tropical treats are loaded with vitamin A — in the form of beta carotene. In fact, one mango delivers more than a full day’s supply. (As an added bonus, some nutritionists claim mangos can combat undesirable body odor!)

Oranges — These citrus fruits deserve all the good press and publicity they get. They are certainly the best known source of vitamin C. National Cancer Institute researchers have said that the year-round availability of citrus fruits, especially oranges, has done more than any other factor to lower the incidence of stomach cancer in this country.

Peaches — Like most fruits, peaches are high in fiber. As they are very low in calories, they not only help you slim down, but can also help tone up the digestive tract.

Pineapple — Here is nature’s candy! Ideal for dessert or just plain snacking, pineapple can easily satisfy even the most voracious sweet tooth (which is why many cooks use pineapple juice as a natural sweetener to replace white sugar). It promotes good digestion, and contains an enzyme known as papain, which helps digest proteins and break down the fats and toxic matter in meat.

Plums — No fruit has been made the object of more jokes than that of “dried plums,” better known as prunes. Everybody has heard that prunes are an excellent laxative — and that’s not just folklore. Plums and prunes contain both types of fiber: insoluble, which is excellent for the digestive system; and soluble, which helps control blood sugar disorders as well as lower cholesterol.

Veggie Power

Asparagus — The caviar of vegetables, asparagus is high in vitamins A and C, several B vitamins, and the minerals calcium, iron and phosphorus. These nutrients make it a natural in any anti-cancer or anti-heart disease menu plan.

Beets — Few members of the vegetable world can protect you from cancer or fortify your skin better than beets. Their calming and beneficial effect on the digestive system is also legendary. Some doctors recommend beet juice for ailments of the gall bladder and liver (the hardest part, though, in my opinion, is just getting it down the hatch without wincing).

Broccoli — Without a doubt, this is America’s most favorite vegetable (excluding most kids). Broccoli is a member of the mustard family, which includes Brussels sprouts, cabbages of all types, cauliflower and kale. Broccoli promotes health in three ways: by preventing cancer, by protecting the heart and circulatory system, and by building strong bones.

Carrots — Bugs Bunny was right on the mark. Carrots are the way to go, as they are tasty, economical and virtually fat free. This rabbit food is the best source of beta carotene, meaning it’s pro-vitamin A.

Cabbage — A traditional staple of the European diet, cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It retains all its nutrients no matter how long you cook it, and is said to help protect against colon cancer.

Cucumber — A common sight on many American tables, cucumbers serve as an excellent weight-loss food because they are extremely low in calories. At the same time, they are acidic so they stimulate the body’s fat-burning mechanism. (A nice side benefit too: these same cleansing properties are said to help clear the skin of blemishes as they discharge impurities through the pores.)

Lettuce — Romaine lettuce is rich in iron and therefore good for the blood. It is also rich in carotene, has significant amounts of vitamin C, and is extremely low in sodium, fat and calories. A report on cancer prevention by the National Academy of Sciences makes frequent mention of lettuce as a valuable protective against certain diseases and illnesses. (Special note: iceberg, the most common member of the lettuce family, is the weakest nutritionally. Hence, when you buy lettuce for salads, stick to Romaine or Green lettuce.)

Mushrooms — There are many varieties of mushrooms available, and their nutritional value ranges from good to better to best. They are one of the few rich sources of the mineral germanium, which improves the body’s transport and use of oxygen, neutralizes pollutants and bolsters the immune system.

Onions — One of the earliest known food medicines, onions are the stuff of folklore and legend. Science today supports their healing benefits too. Studies show the onion can be a potent “medicine” for the heart and blood. For one, onions can help lower total cholesterol and act as an anticoagulant by dissolving dangerous blood clots.

Sweet Potato — Often mistaken for yams, sweet potatoes have been called the perfect weight-loss food. They are filling, loaded with fiber and are low in calories. Their distinctive orange color derives from beta carotene. As far as vegetables are concerned, the sweet potato is one of the better sources of vitamin C, and is rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates.

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