Dried fruit and vegetables are a good snack, especially when fresh versions aren’t in season. They’re high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat. And some dried fruits can serve double duty. For instance, dried figs can replace the fat in baked goods. Substitute half the amount of shortening, margarine, butter or oil with dried fig puree. (Dried fruits and vegetables are more calorie-dense than fresh fruit, so the recommended serving size is only about half the size of their fresh counterparts, or ¼ cup.)
Call it a vicious cycle: Every time a new year rolls around, you vow you’ll lose those extra pounds. But come February, your promises are long since broken.
As you probably know, making the switch to healthier living can be difficult—especially when it comes to food. Maybe you think eating healthy requires more time for meal preparation, costs more money or tastes just plain bland. But it doesn’t have to be any of these things.
Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to help you stick to your weight-loss plan and stay healthy. Most fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories, so you can eat more of them. Many also provide vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and folate—nutrients that have been linked to reduced risks of heart disease, cancer and, in folate’s case, birth defects. You can also consider fruits and veggies “fast food.” Many of them, such as grapes and bananas, require little preparation.
Frozen vegetables and fruits are always an option. But why not shop for fresh produce when it’s in season? Thanks to commercial shipping, you can get most year round, but the quality will be best—and the price cheaper—when you buy produce at its peak. Get your recommended minimum five servings a day by trying some of these seasonal suggestions that follow.
- Citrus fruits. Citrus fruits have lots of vitamin C, as well as flavonoids, which can protect against heart disease and cancer; limonoids, which may slow tumors; and carotenoids, which may protect vision. Pink grapefruit—like watermelon and tomatoes—also provides lycopene, an antioxidant linked to lowering prostate cancer and heart disease risks. (If you’re on medication, talk to your doctor before eating grapefruit. It can change the levels of some medications circulating in the body.)
- Shopping tip: Choose citrus fruits that are heavy for their size.
- Other in-season choices: Leeks and root vegetables such as turnips
- Avocado. Its starring role may be guacamole, but there’s more to the fruit than that. Some studies have found that adding avocado to salad or salsa increases carotenoid absorption. Carotenoids are antioxidants that help protect the body from damage. And though it’s one of the few fruits to contain fat naturally, its fat is of the monounsaturated variety—the heart-healthy kind. Add some avocado to a salad or serve alongside steak or in soup.
- Shopping tip: Look for firm avocados if you’re planning on using them later, or fruits that yield to gentle pressure for immediate use. Get your avocados to ripen extra fast by placing them in a paper bag with an apple at room temperature.
- Artichoke. This low-calorie, fat-free vegetable will reward you with plenty of potassium when you cook it. The artichoke heart, at the vegetable’s center, is a delicacy that can be eaten easily with a fork.
- Shopping tip: It can be tricky picking the right one. Look for a heavy artichoke with tight leaves and a dark green color. Good, fresh artichokes will squeak if you squeeze them.
- Other in-season choices: Apricots, asparagus, carrots, chives, collards, mango, pineapple, spinach
- Berries. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are the ideal snack. They all average well under 100 calories per serving. Blueberries in particular have emerged as the “super berry.” The little blue fruit may help prevent urinary tract infections, as well as improve short-term memory and promote healthy aging.
- Shopping tip: Berries should be firm, dry and well shaped. They should be eaten within a week after purchase, but they freeze well.
- Broccoli. Nutrient-rich broccoli boasts vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, folate and fiber, as well as phytonutrients—compounds that may help prevent heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. To retain most of the nutrients, steam, microwave or stir-fry broccoli with broth or water.
- Shopping tip: Look for broccoli florets that are dark green, purplish or bluish green; they have more beta-carotene and vitamin C than paler or yellowing stems.
- Other in-season choices: Eggplant, green beans, nectarines, peaches, plums, tomatoes
- Sweet potatoes. These orange-fleshed root vegetables are packed with beta-carotene, folic acid and potassium. In fact, one half-cup of sweet potatoes has more beta-carotene than 12 cups of broccoli. Cut them into strips and serve up some sweet-potato fries or substitute them for white potatoes in recipes.
- Shopping tip: Firm, dark, smooth sweet potatoes are best; avoid potatoes with wrinkles, bruises, sprouts or decay.
- Pears. Need an energy boost to start your day? Pears offer fructose, glucose and levulose—the sweetest of natural sugars. They’re also considered a nutrient-dense food, meaning they have more nutrients than calories. Try slicing some up for a quick salad topper.
- Shopping tip: Select one without bruises, cuts or dark brown colors and that yields to slight pressure at the stem. Get them while they’re still slightly green; they ripen better off the tree.
- Apples. One apple is less than 100 calories and provides ample amounts of pectin, a soluble fiber that can lower cholesterol and glucose levels. You can also get your share of vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damage.
- Shopping tip: Apples come in a wide variety, so the choice is yours. Look for fruit without bruises or other blemishes.
- Other in-season choices: Mushrooms, pomegranates, acorn and butternut squash, cauliflower, grapes, figs, pumpkins