Use ‘Top 10’ lists to add variety

Occasionally I see lists of the “top 10” most nutritious fruits and vegetables, but they’re never quite the same as each other. How much should I pay attention to these kinds of lists?

Trying to list the “best” fruits and vegetables is always going to vary depending on the criteria used. Sometimes those lists rank produce according to their vitamin and fiber content; sometimes they focus on in-season produce.

Often, such lists are generated according to the antioxidants in different foods. Those are typically based on a food’s “ORAC” score, which stands for “oxygen radical absorbency capacity,” a test-tube measurement that estimates a food’s overall antioxidant potential. However, ORAC scores don’t include the bioavailablity of these health-promoting substances — something that just can’t be measured currently.

Still, it’s always interesting to take a look at such lists. Inevitably, they provide some inspiration for trying a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, which is always a good thing. Consuming many different kinds of fruits and vegetables is the key to getting the most bang for your produce buck.

One way to make sure you’re getting a good variety of produce is to pay attention to their color. The pigments in produce often indicate the type of nutrients and, particularly, the phytonutrients the food contains. Phytonutrients are substances that plants produce for their own good, to protect themselves from plant diseases and other potential harm. Luckily, they also appear to protect human health as well.

Some phytonutrients are actually plant pigments. So, consuming a wide variety of differently colored fruits and vegetables is a good way to ensure you’re getting a good variety of both nutrients and phytonutrients. Focus on these:

  • Green, including spinach and other leafy greens, broccoli, okra, green pepper, kiwifruit, green grapes, honeydew and limes.
  • Orange and deep yellow, including corn, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, carrots, grapefruit, peaches, pineapple and cataloupe.
  • Purple and blue, including eggplant, purple cabbage, blueberries and blackberries, plums and raisins.
  • Red, including red peppers, red potatoes, tomatoes, rhubarb, red onions, pink grapefruit, watermelon, red grapes, cherries and cranberries.
  • White, tan and brown, including cauliflower, jicama, onions, potatoes, turnips, bananas, brown-skinned pears and dates.

For more information and ideas, see

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Don’t let vacation go to waist

We’ll be spending two weeks driving around the Midwest on vacation this summer. I hate the idea of eating a lot of fast food. Do you have some tips for healthy eating while on the road?

Vacations can really throw your diet a curve. First, unless you’re planning to hook up your refrigerator to a portable generator and tow it behind you, getting your hands on fresh fruits and vegetables won’t be nearly as convenient as it is at home. Second, since you’re on vacation, you may decide to indulge in treats more often than usual. Third, even when you do want to make healthy choices, your options might be limited.

But, yes, there are things you can do that will help. These tips are from a variety of sources, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), the National Diabetes Education Program and the Obesity Prevention Program — the latter two being part of the National Institutes of Health:

• Bring an ice chest and pack it with resealable plastic bags full of healthy snacks: carrots, celery sticks, pepper strips, broccoli and cauliflower florets, snow peas, hummus, apples, oranges, grapes, single-serving containers of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, 2 percent cheese, and low- or nonfat yogurt. Be sure to pack some plastic utenstils for foods you can’t eat with your fingers. And be sure to pack some hand sanitizer to use before eating the foods you do eat with your fingers.

• Also, take along a box of items that don’t need to be kept cool but are just as healthy, such as single-serving containers of tuna and canned fruit, whole-grain crackers, small portions of dried fruit and nuts, and bottled water. You can build a great lunch with these items, enjoying it at a rest stop picnic table on your trip.

• When you do eat at restaurants, try to order first so your choice won’t be influenced by everyone else at the table. And, ask if anyone wants to split an entree with you — that’s a great way to keep portions to a reasonable size. Stay away from fried foods and instead look for grilled, baked or broiled options. Consider ordering milk as a beverage if you’re not getting much calcium, or stick to water, unsweetened tea or diet soft drinks. Look at the salads offered, but be careful: High-fat dressing, cheese, croutons and other toppings can surprise you with how much fat and calories they contain. When restaurants offer a “healthy” menu, choose from it at least half the time.

• Staying at a hotel that offers breakfast? Choose eggs if they’re available, or opt for yogurt, fresh fruit, juice or low-sugar, high-fiber cereal.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Lots of fruits, veggies might stem diabetes

I’ve been told that I’m “pre-diabetic.” Should I cut way back on fruit? I know it contains a lot of sugar.

First, for individual health-related advice, it’s always best to talk directly to your doctor or, in cases like this, a registered dietitian, who could work with you personally to examine your normal day-to-day eating patterns and help you make improvements.

But if you’re like most Americans, you likely aren’t eating enough fruit. And your question indicates that you have the common misconception that eating sweets causes diabetes. It doesn’t. It’s caused by the body’s inability to handle blood sugar, but that comes from many kinds of foods, not just those that taste sweet.

In fact, a recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care indicates that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables — and, even more importantly, a lot of different kinds of fruits and vegetables — may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study included more than 3,700 adults in the United Kingdom and lasted 11 years. The researchers found:

• Eating more fruits and vegetables (about six servings a day) was associated with a 21 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with eating just two servings a day.

• People who ate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables — averaging 16 different types over the course of a week — were about 40 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who averaged just eight different types.

It’s important to note that the study doesn’t necessarily prove cause and effect. But it is one more good reason why you might want to incorporate a wider variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet. Here are some ideas to do so:

• Even if you don’t normally pack your lunch, pack a snack to have mid-morning or mid-afternoon. It can be one of the standards: an apple, orange, banana, grapes, baby carrots, celery strips or red pepper strips, or something totally new. Shop the produce section with a fresh eye to see what you might want to try.

• Buy large containers of vanilla or plain yogurt and, as you prepare individual servings, top with one-quarter to one-half cup of fresh or frozen berries.

• Add variety to salads by including spinach with the lettuce and topping with fresh blueberries or strawberries.

For more on the benefits of fruits and vegetables and ideas to include more in your diet, see the Fruits and Veggies Matter website, a partnership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, at

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

First, focus on health, not weight

I’ve tried every diet under the sun, but I always gain back everything I’ve lost and more. Before I completely give up, what can I try next?

First, you know this already, but I’ll say it anyway: You are not alone. Most people who lose weight tend to put it back on. Studies suggest that we just tend to return to old habits that started the problem in the first place.

That’s why, for years, nutritionists have recommended adopting a lifestyle change rather than a “diet,” which people tend to think of as a short-term meandering off their normal routine. But adopting such behavior change can be extremely difficult, and is influenced by many things often out of your control.

That doesn’t mean giving up is your only option. Here are some things to consider as you find a new path:

Focus on health, not weight. Size and shape don’t necessarily reflect health. Eat plenty of vegetables (about 2.5 cups a day) and fruit (about 2 cups a day). Choose whole grains over refined, and lean proteins over fattier options. When you use fat, reach for oil instead of margarine or other solid fats. Get regular physical checkups and monitor your blood sugar, blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. If they’re in normal ranges, you’re doing a lot of the right things.

Move more. We live in a sedentary society. Most of us spend too much time in front of a television or computer monitor, never approaching the 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity we should get five days a week. Take a good look at your typical day and see if there’s a way to add a 20-minute brisk walk to your regular routine. Whether or not you’re already physically active, taking these extra steps (literally) will help.

Eat less. That piece of advice is so simple it might sound, well, laughable. But portions have grown so much over the last few decades that it can be hard to tell what a real serving size should be. You might try a simple step: Fill your plate as normal — then remove one-third of the main dish and the starch (whether it’s grain-based or a starchy vegetable). See if you’re satisfied with the smaller amount; if not, have another serving of non-starchy vegetables to see if that does the trick.

At some point, you might try measuring a few foods you commonly eat to see if they’re within proper portion sizes. If you’re not sure how much of each food group you should be eating, download a PDF file of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Patterns at It has charts that show you how much of different types of foods are recommended for different calorie intakes. Then — step away from the computer and take that walk.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or