March 20th finally ushers in the first official day of spring, but it doesn’t take a calendar to know that spring is just around the corner. As we’ve endured those final few weeks of cabin fever, cold, rainy weather, and heavy winter fare, our bodies and minds have longed for the first warm days that will beckon us to wooded trails and sprouting gardens.
It’s a danger that many of us in the Mid-West fall into. The long months of cold weather and reduced access to local produce lull us into a pattern of inactivity and too much comfort food. Then, just when it seems like the pattern might set, the internal alarm clock urges to action, and not a moment too soon, the first local root vegetables and greens begin to arrive in our local markets again, as well as fresh fruits and veggies from warmer climates. There are many reasons that we begin to yearn for fresh fruits and vegetables, especially at this time of year, but three of the biggest are densely packed nutrition, disease defense, and plate appeal.
Packed with Power
Yes, I know it sounds cliche, (mostly due to processed foods claiming to be, “Flavor Packed”), but fresh fruits and vegetables truly do pack a lot of what we need into tiny packages, full of crunch and flavor. For instance, vegetables are an amazing way to get the fiber that you need to keep your digestive system humming along happily, without the spike in blood sugar that comes from other sources, such as grains. Dietary fiber also helps to clean your blood, lowering levels of dangerous substances such as HDL cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables are also a great natural source of potassium, which helps to regulate the sometimes dangerous effects of sodium on the blood, as well other electrolytes. Additionally there are vitamins and minerals too numerous to mention individually, that can be found in other sources, such as dairy or meat, but are just as plentiful and even easier for your body to break down and use in fruits and vegetables. For instance iron, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, which many of us associate with meats are found just as readily in broccoli! The low-down? Fruits and vegetables give you all of the vitamins and minerals that you need to keep your body moving and recovering optimally.
The Best Defense…
You know the old adage, the best defense is a good offense. This applies to our food just as readily as it applies to sports. Fresh fruits and vegetables are amazing immune boosters, helping our body’s defense system to bring its best fight to any illness it encounters. From long-known benefits such as Vitamin C’s, (from fruits such as citrus and apples), ability to combat influenza, to new clinical research showing how leafy greens and berries can help the body fight cancer, by reducing oxidation, fresh produce is proving to be an essential ally in disease defense. In fact, a 2004 study from the National Cancer Institute (1) found that patients who consumed 8 or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per-day were 30% less likely to experience coronary heart disease or stroke, and subsequent studies have shown links to decreases in specific forms of cancer, including throat, lung, and prostate, and the consumption of specific fruits and vegetables. As an added bonus, (if fighting heart disease and cancer aren’t enough of an incentive for you), fresh produce just helps us feel better! According to Juan Agudelo, MD, Board-Certified Orthopedic Surgeon at Florida Hospital, East Orlando, “A balanced diet rich in fresh, whole foods is a good foundation for healthy bones and joints.”(2) For instance, orange juice is packed with calcium to grow healthy bones, as well as the vitamin C which allows the body to readily absorb the calcium into tissue. Apples and cherries can also help to your body produce collagen, and act as anti-inflammatories, contributing to overall joint health.
Color and Crunch
While we all have the periodic craving for a warm cinnamon roll or heaping serving of mashed potatoes during the chilly winter months, our pallets begin to yearn for something fresher as the days get warmer. Fresh fruits and vegetables give us that crunch and burst of color that we’ve been missing. From the crunch of carrots and crisp greens, to the burst of colors and flavors in a bowl of fresh berries, spring produce brings to our tables the feeling of excitement and energy we begin to experience in the world outside. And the best part? Its more than just OK to indulge the craving, its beneficial to our overall health! So go ahead, indulge in all that the spring has to offer.
1.Hung, H.C., et al., Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst, 2004. 96(21): p. 1577-84.