“Eat your fruits and vegetables.” I think everyone would agree that we would all be much healthier if we followed the advice that our mothers gave us for the past umpteen years.
Now, summer has faded, the leaves have begun to change colors, cooler weather has arrived, and the much-anticipated fall crops are here. It is a perfect time to boost our daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are nutritious and complement any diet, plus they provide an excellent source of fiber, are low in fat and calories, contain no cholesterol and are an excellent source for vitamins and minerals.
Fall weather provides a perfect opportunity to use fruits or vegetables in soups, stews or hearty casseroles. While the actual amount of vegetables that a person should consume varies by each individual, children should get 1 and a half cups of vegetables while teens and adults should get 2 to 2 and a half cups daily.
Fruits provides maintenance for our bodies. Children need 1 to 1 and a half cups daily while teens and adults need 1 and a half to 2 cups.
The easy way to remember these numbers are by filling our plates half full with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Allow for a variety of colors since each fruit or vegetable provides different nutrients that our bodies need.
Use the following tips to select and to prepare this delicious fall produce that can be found across the state of Alabama at local farmers markets, roadside stands and grocery stores.
The following fruits and vegetables are currently in season in the state of Alabama: apple, brussels sprouts, grapes, green beans, honey dew, kiwi, okra, oranges, pears, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, tangerines, tomatoes and turnips.
Select pumpkins that are mature, firm and a rich orange. To test the maturity of a pumpkin, press your fingernail against the skin. If the skin cannot be punctured, then it is matured.
Avoid purchasing cracked, scarred or badly decayed pumpkins. The bright orange color of the pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkins are loaded with beta-carotene (just like carrots and sweet potatoes) which provides our bodies Vitamin A.
Beta carotene also helps reduce the risks of developing certain cancers and protects against heart disease. Select sweet potatoes that are firm, small to medium in size and with smooth skin.
Avoid cracks, soft spots and blemishes. Sweet potatoes are a great source of potassium.
Winter squash comes in a variety of options — acorn, butternut and chayote. Choose winter squash that are firm, heavy for their size and have dull and hard rinds.
Acorn squash comes in a variety of colors including yellow, dark green, tan and orange. Acorn squash can be stored for up to three months in a cool dry area away from extreme temperatures and sunlight.
Butternut squash can easily be found in grocery stores and are the more popular among winter squashes. Choose a squash that is heavy for its size and store in a cool, dark place for a month.
Once cut, refrigerate the unused portion. All winter squashes are fat free, cholesterol and sodium free, and are a good source of vitamin C.
Pears are plentiful in our area of Alabama. Check for freshness and ripeness by applying gentle pressure to the stem end of the pear with your thumb. When it gives to pressure, it is ready to eat.
Pears are an excellent source of fiber (the good stuff we need to clean out our bodies).
Did you know honeydews taste better if left unrefrigerated for a few days? Choose a well-shaped honeydew that has a waxy feel and is heavy in size.
Once a honeydew is cut, store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Honeydews are very high in Vitamin C.
For more information on the selection of fall fruits and vegetables, visit your local extension office or www.aces.edu.
Emma Anne Hallman works with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System as the Nutrition Education agent in Walker and Marion counties.