September is National Fruit and Veggie Month. and it’s a wonderful time to review and make sure produce is included daily in meals and snacks.

Produce is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients promoting health. Daily intake of fruits and veggies provides amazing benefits including decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, improved brain function, eye health and digestion and help with weight loss.

There isn’t one fruit or veggie that promotes overall health. Eating a wide variety is associated with more health benefits. Make sure to enjoy a rainbow of colors – the pigments that give plant foods color are full of plant nutrients:

>> Red: The pigment resveratrol helps decrease inflammation and nourishes the immune system. Foods include strawberries, tomatoes, apples, red peppers, cherries, watermelon, pomegranate and beets.

>> Purple/blue: This rich deep color is full of anthocyanins, which enhance cardiovascular and brain health and includes foods such as blueberries, blackberries, eggplant and grapes.

>> Orange/yellow: Orange pigments such as lutein are important for reproduction and eye health and yellow pigments play an important part of digestive health. Foods include oranges, tangerines, papaya, carrots, sweet potatoes, peaches, lemons, bananas and pineapple.

>> Green: Chlorophyll is a nutrient related to decreased cancer risk as well as promoting healthy skin and red blood cell production. Foods include lettuces and leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, mustard/collard/turnip greens along with green beans, cabbage and brussels sprouts.

When people are busy, they tend to grab more processed foods and skip fruits and veggies.

Here are some quick tips for adding more produce into your daily routine:

>> Start small. Think of one meal or snack you can start with and build from there. Even adding a banana or apple to breakfast or a snack or eating more salads is a good start!

>> Keep experimenting. Remember to try produce in different ways at least eight to 10 times before deciding you don’t like it. This is a great strategy for picky kids as well.

>> Add produce permanently to your grocery list. Whether fresh, plain, frozen or canned, they can all be beneficial. If using canned, drain the salty broth off veggies and add water to cook and drain the sugar-ridden juice from canned fruit.

>> Make produce ready to eat or cook. Prep fresh produce when you get home or purchase it already cut up to save time and load up on frozen fruits and veggies.

>> Start the day with adding fruit or veggies to breakfast. Add spinach or other veggies to eggs or fruit to cereal and oatmeal. Top cheese toast with tomato or add sliced bananas to peanut butter toast. Grab a fruit to go with a protein bar if you’re rushing in the morning.

>> Plan lunch and supper around produce. Make sure to include a fruit or veggie at meals. And something is better than nothing, so even adding more lettuce, tomatoes or sliced fruit to sandwiches makes a difference. Include side salads more often, and load half of your plate with veggies at meals.

>> Combine produce with protein at snacks. This will provide longer staying power with snacks such as apple with peanut butter or veggies with hummus.

>> Have fruit for dessert more often. Try strawberries with chocolate or vanilla yogurt with berries, or get creative and explore new dessert recipes with fruit.

>> Try something new. Expand your horizons by adding a food you don’t normally eat, such as starfruit, kiwi, mango or beets, eggplant, rutabagas and shallots. If you have picky kids, sneak it in and add grated carrot or zucchini to spaghetti, meatloaf, chili and stews.

People who eat more produce also have more energy throughout the day, so make sure to power up with produce!

For more information on adopting healthier lifestyle changes, contact Kitty Finklea, lifestyle coach, registered dietitian and personal trainer at McLeod Health and Fitness Center, at 843-777-3000.

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