By Robyn Brown, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandSeptember 4, 2012
As the warm weather slowly fades away, we all think about how to keep the healthy feeling of summer a little longer. Cooler weather and shorter days can take a toll on our immune system. Research shows that one way to stay strong is to continue to enjoy plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. September is "National Fruits and Veggies--More Matters" month. This is a great time to make the transition from summer's fresh peaches and blueberries to the delicious pears, plums and grapes of the fall.
Orange fruits and vegetables are a particularly tasty way to boost the immune system all year long. Delicious fall favorites include sweet potatoes, butternut squash or pumpkin. Orange foods contain the antioxidants beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, as well as vitamin E. These vitamins work alongside vitamin C to improve the immune system's ability to protect against viral infections and to fight off colds and flu.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends eating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies every day in order to promote good health, and says that almost everyone could benefit from including more of these tasty choices in every meal. A general guideline is to aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and most people should increase the amount they eat every day.
There are plenty of simple and fun ways to add a colorful variety of fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks. All forms of fruits and veggies matter--use fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent fruit juice. Here are some tips to increase daily fruit and vegetable intake:
• Make fruits and vegetables visible: Keep a colorful fruit bowl visible on the kitchen counter, dining table or desk at work. Fresh produce can also be kept within easy reach in the refrigerator and portioned into small servings for a quick and easy snack.
• Double up the veggies: When making stir fry or pasta, it is easy double the usual portions of vegetables like broccoli or bell peppers and maintain the taste of the dish. When serving vegetables as a side dish, add an extra helping, so at least half of the plate is filled with fruit and veggies.
• Add fruits to everything: Many daily treats can give your immune system a boost by topping them with fruit. Add bananas to breakfast cereal, pancakes or toast. Top an afternoon snack of yogurt with cranberries. Enjoy snacks of fruits like oranges, pears or apples anytime.
• Try something new: Even the tastiest healthful meals can eventually lose their appeal. Keep healthy eating interesting by regularly adding new variety. Try new recipes for colorful side dishes. Browse the produce aisle or farmers market for a new fruit for afternoon snacks. Each season provides an opportunity to try something new and delicious.
Try this fruit salad for a great way to strengthen your immune system this fall:
• 1 mango, peeled and cut into cubes
• 1 medium banana, sliced
• 1 cup pineapple chunks -- fresh or canned
• 1 orange, sectioned
• 2 passion fruits
Combine first four ingredients in a bowl and stir gently to mix. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour to allow flavors to blend. Spoon fruit salad into dessert bowls. Cut each passion fruit in half and serve one half with each bowl. Scoop the passion fruit out of the skin, and use it as a dressing for the fruit salad.
For ideas on adding more fruits and veggies to your meals this fall visit:
Produce for Better Health Foundation, http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/howmany.html