There’s something about … produce

Yes, there is something about red produce!!!  In my opinion it’s the phytonutrients, lycopene and anthocyanin. These  phytonutrients are the pigments responsible for  giving red produce its’ vibrant color. They are also associated with the many health benefits red fruits and vegetables have to offer; beyond the fact that they are low in calories, high in fiber and bursting with vitamins and minerals. This post is about  one familiar red veggie and one not so familiar red fruit –  today’s hottest super fruit. Read on to discover why you should include them in your diet.

The familiar; tomatoes and tomato products have an abundance of  the carotenoid, lycopene.  Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant with  health-protective properties.  Studies have shown that increased levels of  lycopene in the bloodstream and regular consumption of tomatoes and tomato products are associated with  lower rates of cardiovascular disease.  Research has also shown lycopene to have protective qualities against  some cancers, particularly prostate cancer.   More than 80% of the lycopene in the American diet is attributed to tomato products. Benefits may be from as little as a single serving of processed tomato products. Yes, “fresh” is often desirable, but not in this case;  processing results in greater absorption of lycopene. Here are some tips for getting a daily serving of processed tomatoes:

• Use canned tomatoes in chili, soups and stews.

• Enjoy salsa on baked potatoes, eggs, tacos and enchiladas.

• Drink tomato juice or use it as a base to  make soup.

• Make tomato sauce to serve over pasta or spread it on whole wheat English muffins topped with low fat cheese for a quick lunch.

• Make a side dish using canned tomatoes and top with fresh  basil, panko, and olive oil before baking.

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Today’s hottest super fruit; tart cherries, are high in the antioxidants, anthocyanins 1 and 2, which give cherries their vibrant color and are responsible for their anti-inflammatory properties linking them to numerous health benefits. These benefits include promoting cardiovascular health, reducing pain from gout and arthritis and minimize post-exercise muscle pain.  Tart cherries are available year round as dried , frozen, and juice. How much do you need to reap the health benefits of tart cherries? One to two servings. One serving is equivalent to:

1/2 cup dried, 1 cup frozen, 1 cup juice or 2 T juice concentrate.

Tips for adding a serving of tart cherries to your daily diet:

• Make trail mix with tart cherries, almonds and cold cereal for a to-go snack.

• Add dried tart cherries to oatmeal or Greek yogurt for a quick breakfast.

• Add 2 T juice concentrate to your favorite smoothie or add 1 cup frozen tart cherries to nonfat yogurt and skim milk for a refreshing recovery drink.

• Add 2 T juice concentrate to ice cold sparkling water for a fun beverage with fizz!

Lycopene and anthocyanin  are just a few of the many phytonutrients present in fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Optimizing the health benefits from your food is as simple as  choosing from a broad spectrum of foods, and varying daily. Don’t forget…. there’s something about red!

Diane Boyd, M.B.A., R.D., L.N.D.

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