The growing season in Southern California starts early and ends late. Take advantage of this by stocking up and eating healthy fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and water -- plus, they are tasty and low in calories. When fruits and vegetables are picked and eaten when they come into season, they can even be more flavorful, richer in nutrients and cheaper than at other times of the year.
All you have to do is pick and store them well, and use them before they spoil.
Tomatoes which have been allowed to ripen completely before being picked have the best taste. Choose fully ripe tomatoes that are unblemished, slightly soft, with an overall rich red color. Tomatoes that are slightly less than fully ripe should be firm and range in color from pink to light red. One pound of tomatoes equals about three or four small tomatoes and about one-and-a-half cups of cooked tomatoes. Two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half pounds will make one quart of canned tomatoes.
Storage: To ripen tomatoes, separate them, so they do not touch each other in an area at about 60 to 70 degrees F, but keep them away from bright light. Fully ripe tomatoes should be kept uncovered in the refrigerator where the cold will inhibit the ripening process. Use them within a week. Many people prefer not to refrigerate tomatoes, but these must be used quickly.
Preparation: Peel and cut tomatoes just before using them to minimize loss of nutrients. If it is necessary to prepare them early, keep them covered in the refrigerator until they are cooked and served.
Choose ears of corn that have fresh, green, succulent husks. The silk ends should be free of decay and worm damage while the stem ends should not be too discolored or dry. Kernels should be plump but not too mature, and should cover the ear well; they should be soft and milky.
Storage: Leave the husks on to store corn, uncovered, in the refrigerator. For the sweetest taste, use corn as soon as possible.
Preparation: Corn should be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting before it begins to lose its natural sweetness. It is important not to overcook corn.
Choose bright green, moist, crisp, well-filled pods.
Preparation: Allow 3 to 6 pounds peas in shells for each quart. Thoroughly rinse the unshelled peas in water drain. Shell fresh peas; thoroughly rinse again and drain well.
Large or small, every red berry is ripe, luscious and ready-to-eat. So pick all the red ones you can find. Green berries will not ripen after being picked.
Storage: Strawberries are very perishable and need to be handled gently. Protect the berries from direct sunlight and don't leave them in a hot car. Store berries in the coolest place in the home, such as in the refrigerator or on the basement floor.
Preparation: Rinse off the berries when ready to use and not before. Remove stems after washing berries you use. Grade your berries. Use the ripest ones first.
The daily value for vitamin A is 5,000 IU or 1,500 mcg. Fruits and vegetables that provide a significant amount of the daily value for vitamin A are:
|Produce Item||Portion Size||% Daily Value for Vitamin A|
|Spinach||1 1/2 cups shredded||70%|
|Green leaf lettuce||1 1/2 cups shredded||30%|
|Watermelon||2 cups diced||20%|
Folate is important to good health and has been in the news lately because it is linked to the prevention of birth defects (such as spina bifida), heart attacks, stroke and colorectal cancer. Folate, B vitamin, is also referred to as folic acid or folacin.
Adult men and women need 400 micrograms of folate in their diet each day. However, most Americans do not get enough folate from the foods they eat. The good news is that by eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and eating dried peas and beans several times a week you can make sure that your diet contains adequate folate for good health.
The following fruits and vegetables are high in folate (at least 20 percent of the daily value for folate per serving): avocado, broccoli, spinach, strawberries and squash. See above for typical serving sizes. Good sources of folate (at least 10 percent of the daily value for folate per serving) include: artichoke, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, lettuce, and orange.
The daily value for vitamin C is 60 mg. Fruits and vegetables that provide a significant amount of the daily value for vitamin are:
|Produce Item||Portion Size||% Daily Value for Vitamin C|
|Broccoli||1 medium stalk||200%|
|Strawberries||8 medium berries||130%|
|Cauliflower||1/6 medium head||100%|
|Cabbage||1/12 medium head||60%|
|Spinach||1 1/2 cups shredded||25%|
Fiber is important for normal bowel function and has been shown to be helpful in reducing cholesterol levels. Fruits and vegetables usually have both soluble and insoluble fiber, with the insoluble fiber general found associated with the skin, stalks and seeds, and the soluble fiber with the flesh.
The daily value for fiber is 25 grams. "High" sources of fiber must provide at least 20 percent of the daily value per serving (5 grams of fiber) and "good" sources provide at least 10 percent of the daily value per serving (2.5 grams of fiber).
Examples of different amounts of fiber sources are:
|Produce Item||Portion Size||% Daily Value for Fiber|
|Spinach||1 1/2 cups shredded||20%|
|Broccoli||1 medium stalk||16%|
|Strawberries||8 medium berries||12%|
|Artichoke||edible portion of one||12%|
|Avacado||2 tablespoons, mashed||4%|
|Corn||1 medium ear||4%|
|Marcy Fenton, M.S., R.D., is a nutritionist at AIDS Project Los Angeles and can be reached at (213) 201-1611 or email@example.com.
Senaa Bensouda is a nutrition student at Los Angeles City College. Additional research assistance provided by Souad Nachabe, dietetic intern at PHFE-WIC Program.