Fruits and Vegetables: Beyond Bananas and Broccoli

Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables? According to the US Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, adults should eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables per day, whether steamed, cooked, or raw. Maybe you have trouble with this aspect of healthy eating because you think plants are boring, but there’s more to fruit than apples and bananas, and more to vegetables than broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Read on for some fresh fruit ideas and vegetable tips.

How do you tell if produce is fresh to begin with? Indications vary from plant to plant, but in general, trust your senses of sight and touch. The color should be even, with no spots of brown, black, or white. The fruit should be firm to the touch all over (though some fruits can have a little give, like peaches), and vegetables should be crisp enough to snap instead of bend when you apply pressure. You can’t go around breaking bundles of asparagus over your knee in the store, obviously, but you can discreetly wiggle the tip of a stalk to feel how firm the resistance is.

Don’t be afraid to keep trying unfamiliar produce. Maybe you think you don’t like vegetables, but have you tried all the fruits and vegetables there are to try? Try a persimmon (a fruit that looks like an orange tomato) cut in slices on squares of low-fat cheese. Try some kale (a leafy vegetable that tastes like red lettuce), sauteed and sprinkled with a few drops of roasted sesame oil. A lot of big grocery stores carry fruits and vegetables that were hard to find outside of specialty shops even twenty years ago, and you might be surprised to find that you love the crisp, mild flavor of an Asian pear, or even the texture of a cold seaweed salad!

Try joining a CSA, or “Community Supported Agriculture” club, where a seasonal membership fee paid to a local farmer entitles you to weekly deliveries of the farm’s harvest.  To find a CSA near you, check out this online CSA finder from Local Harvest.  (If there are no CSAs near you, get your produce at a local farmers’ market.) Locally grown fruits and vegetables are often fresher and cheaper, because they don’t come burdened with the extra time and expense it takes them to be shipped from out of state. If you join a CSA, the assortment of vegetables is often chosen for you, which helps encourage you to try new things you might not otherwise think of. And at farmers’ markets, you can often get especially great deals on produce that’s in season. Plus, when you shop locally, it directly supports nearby farms and small businesses, which is good for the local economy.

How to cook your vegetables depends on the plant, but most vegetables can be simply steamed in the microwave. Cut up your vegetable, put it in a microwave-safe bowl, add a little water (maybe half an inch), and put a cover over the bowl so a little crack shows. Cooked vegetables should be firm but not crisp, and easy to cut with a knife (but hard to cut with a fork). Most steamed vegetables have delicate, subtle flavors on their own, which makes them ideal to pair with or add to other dishes.

But be sure to eat some of your veggies raw. Raw food, especially fruits and vegetables, has certain benefits that cooked food doesn’t. First, raw food takes longer to eat and digest, meaning that you’re more likely to feel satisfied with less. And the extra fiber in raw fruits and veggies means there are fewer calories in every bite, too. Second, raw fruits and vegetables are faster to prepare—just rinse, maybe peel or cut, and you’re ready to dig in. Third, buying raw vegetables and fruit, as opposed to frozen or canned, means you eat less of the food additives found in packaged food, like all that extra sodium or artificial  preservatives. You even throw away less packaging, which is better for the whole environment, and not just your own body.

Eating fruits and vegetables is an essential part of healthy eating habits. And with the right approach, it can be the most exciting part. As intimidating as a raw, whole pineapple can appear (and as messy as it can be trying to cut it up properly!), once you’ve tasted it fresh, canned pineapple will never compare. So throw caution to the wind and buy that mango (or taro, whatever that is). You could be pleasantly surprised!

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