Fresh produce provides all kinds of nutrients and fiber, and studies show that consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps support a healthy weight and reduces your risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Getting your recommended daily five to 10 servings of fruits and veggies is also good for the brain. Beta-carotene, a nutrient found in many vegetables and fruits, seems to slow down cognitive decline if consumed for 15 years or longer, says a report in the November 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. So you can't go wrong with purchases from the farmers market or the supermarket produce section, but venture into new veggie territory and eat vegetables you don't usually choose.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is key in meeting your daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals (if you eat only a few produce items every day, you miss out on the nutrients the others have to offer). Shop the grocery store or head to a farmers market for some tasty produce that deserves more time on your table. Here are some tips and suggestions for new and delicious dishes to keep your taste buds happy and boost your health.
Though thought of as veggies, eggplant and zucchini are actually fruits. These late-summer goodies can add color, tender texture, and variety to your usual dinner routine. Bonus: The skins of both zucchini and eggplant are edible, so no peeling is required.
Among other nutrients, eggplant will add calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous to your diet. Choose eggplants that are shiny, plump, firm and unwrinkled -- definitive signs of freshness. The fruit should feel heavy for its size, indicating good moisture content.
Slice eggplant lengthwise or into medallions. Lightly coat slices with a bit of olive oil and place right on the grill. Keep your eye on them to avoid charring, which causes the formation of carcinogens, and grill until tender. Grilling brings out eggplant's natural flavor, so it's good right off the barbecue. Add a bit of Parmesan or feta cheese for a yummy contrast in flavor.
No barbecue? Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Slice eggplant into thicker medallions, coat lightly with olive oil and bit of salt, and place on a baking dish. Roast eggplant in the oven for 30 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Steaming the medallions is another quick and easy option.
Zucchini, a type of summer squash, is low in calories and offers a healthy dose of folate, a B vitamin important for the formation of red blood cells, and perhaps best known for its role in preventing birth defects, along with potassium and vitamins A and C. Zucchini also contains beta carotene and all types of summer squash provide small quantities of minerals.
Look for smaller bright-colored zucchinis when you're shopping; they're younger and have more tender skins. Prepare them the same way you'd prepare eggplant. You can also shred zucchini and toss it with hot pasta to add color, nutrition and bulk.
What to do with the humble beet? Once you get past the tough skin of this bulbous root vegetable, it has a sweet, earthy taste that's worth the preparation. If you can prepare a potato, then you can prepare a beet.
Why beets? They are a good source of folate and are rich in potassium, which can help with blood pressure control. Beets are also a good source of dietary fiber and are low in calories. Look for firm, smooth-skinned small- to medium-size globes with crisp, brightly colored, unblemished leaves.
Cut off the greens and boil beets with the skins on; this will help retain the moisture and save you all that peeling. Boil them until they are soft like a boiled potato. Remove from the water and take the peel off with a knife or your fingers once they have cooled a little. Then cut into small cubes or rounds, and toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Save the beet cooking water and add it to soup.
Another take on the boiled beet: Toss the cubes with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar; serve warm or cool as a salad. Try the cool salad with sour cream and fresh dill.
Too much work? Wrap whole beets, greens removed, in foil and put them on the barbecue until they are tender, or roast in the oven for an hour.
Don't let the beet greens go to waste. Wash them thoroughly and chop the leaves and stems into bite-sized pieces and place in a covered glass pot with some water on the bottom for steaming on the stove-top. Steam until tender, drain and add a little butter, if you like, a hit of salt and pepper, and some fresh lemon. Zing.
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