Spark interest in fruit, veggies on the Fourth

chow_070215_184369301I want to rev up the healthfulness of our Fourth of July cookout. I always make a veggie platter or fruit salad, but they get bypassed for burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and chips. What can I do to draw more attention to healthier fare?

Why not take your cue from Old Glory and focus on red, white and blue fruits and vegetables this weekend?

Too often, people at parties and holiday gatherings treat fruits and vegetables as the Debbie Downer of dining. But with a little thought and effort, you can make produce the star of the show:

  • Put strawberries, sliced bananas and dark grapes (not quite blue, but close) on skewers.
  • On a rectangular platter, arrange raspberries and cut apples in red and white stripes, and put a bowl of blueberries in the corner.
  • Layer red, white and blue fruits in a clear glass straight-sided bowl and let it show its colors.
  • Keep it simple and just line up three bowls of red, white and blue fruits or vegetables on the buffet line. You can use watermelon, berries, cherries or red peppers; cauliflower, cole slaw, bananas, apples or white grapes; and blueberries or purple grapes.

Focusing on the colors of fruits and vegetables isn’t just a gimmick. The color of produce often indicates what sort of phytochemicals it provides. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that aren’t essential nutrients but still appear to provide health benefits.

There are many different types of phytochemicals. Some are antioxidants that help limit damage to cells resulting from oxidation, which is a normal process in the body. Some are carotenoids, which offer many benefits including lowering the risk of age-related sight problems. Some phytochemicals appear to have anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory properties. And some have been linked with improved blood flow, anti-cancer properties and even other benefits.

Research is still nailing down precisely the effects of phytochemicals in the body. In the meantime, you not only want to get a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but you want to make sure you regularly consume produce of all different colors — dark green, yellow, purple, orange and, of course, red, white and blue — to make sure you’re getting a broad range of these nutrients.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers a wealth of information about phytochemicals on its website. Arranged by color group, you can find out what fruits and vegetables contain which phytochemicals and what health benefits they offer. It has information on flavonoids, from anthocyanidins to flavonols; carotenoids, from beta-carotene to zeaxanthin; and other phytochemicals, from indoles to resveratrol. If this sparks your interest, learn more at pbhfoundation.org/about/res/pic/phytolist/.

For more information and fruit and veggie recipe ideas, see Ohio State University Extension’s “Maximize Your Nutrients” web page at localfoods.osu.edu/maximizenutrients.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, 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 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Chow Line: Trim costs while buying more produce

chow_010915_488801301Two of my New Year’s resolutions are to eat more fruits and vegetables and to spend less at the grocery store. Other than watching for sales on produce, what are some ideas to help? 

Those are two great resolutions. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults get two to three cups of vegetables and 1.5 to two cups of fruit a day. Keep in mind that it’s important to get a wide variety. Apples and green beans are fine, but you’ll want to spread your wings a bit and eat other types of produce to get the benefits you’re looking for from fruits and vegetables.

And you don’t have to assume that eating more healthfully will be more expensive. A 2012 study by the Economic Research Service, “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?” found that healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, are often less expensive per serving than foods that are higher in saturated fat, added sugar or sodium or that contribute little to meeting the dietary recommendations. So, if you’re smart about buying fruits and vegetables and at the same time buy fewer less-healthy foods, your grocery bill could easily go down.

Here are some ideas to help you achieve your goals:

  • For fresh fruits and vegetables, become familiar with what’s in season. You’re more likely to find good prices on in-season produce, but you first need to know what to look for. For an extensive list, visit the “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters” website at fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org and click on “What’s in season?”
  • Don’t forget the canned and frozen sections of the grocery store. As long as you have the pantry and freezer space, here’s where sales can really help trim costs. Store brands are normally the most economical, but sometimes price reductions on name brands will surprise you, especially if you have a coupon. For health, look for low-sodium canned goods and frozen produce without added sugar or sauces.
  • If you have options on where to shop, check them out. Many people head to the nearest grocery store out of convenience, but better deals could be just down the road. Just be cautious about impulse purchases: Shopping at additional stores provides more opportunities to spend money you didn’t plan on. And don’t be tempted to drive so far that the cost of gas undermines your grocery savings.
  • Be sure to eat what you have on hand before it goes bad. According to a 2014 Economic Research Service report, American consumers throw away 90 billion pounds of food per year, including 9.5 billion pounds of fresh fruit and 12.8 billion pounds of fresh vegetables. That’s not only wasted food, but money down the drain. To reduce waste, plan meals and snacks, and purchase only what your family can eat while it’s fresh. And keep fresh produce as visible as possible — in a bowl on the kitchen counter (if it doesn’t have to be kept cool) or at the front of the refrigerator.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, 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, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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