Fresh food (151020)

Richly colored fruits and vegetables, such as those available fresh in New York State from now through fall, are colorful and tasteful additions to your table, and also vital to a healthy diet. Nutrition research shows that colorful fruits and vegetables—dark green, deep red, purple, bright orange and yellow—contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals needed by the human body. In addition, the pigments—the very things that make carrots and pumpkins orange and plums purple—may themselves protect against chronic disease, including cancer and heart disease.

Sample the spectrum of colorful produce

The Medical Society of the State of New York joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the 5-a-Day Partnership in encouraging everyone to “Sample the Spectrum” of colorful fruits and vegetables available this season. By putting something of every color on your plate or in your lunch bag, you are more likely to eat the recommended five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits every day.

To make more Americans aware of the nutritional benefits of seasonal and colorful fruits and vegetables, the CDC and 5-a-Day Partnership are also promoting a “Fruit of the Month” and “Vegetable of the Month.”

Let us eat lettuce

The vegetable of the month for August is lettuce. Most dark green lettuces are good sources of vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, folate and dietary fiber. In general, the darker the greens, the more nutritious the leaf. And you get a lot of leaf—1½ cups of chopped raw lettuce—for approximately 15 calories and 0 grams of fat.

Because lettuce is delicate, great care should be taken in selecting and storing it. Leaves should be fresh and crisp, with no signs of wilting or dark spots. The darker outer leaves are the most nutritious.

Lettuce tends to keep well in plastic bags in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Romaine generally lasts approximately 10 days, and the butterhead and endive lettuces approximately four days. The very delicate greens do not last very long; so it is best to buy only as much as needed at one time and to use it immediately. Leaves that have roots should be placed in a glass container of water with a bag over the leaves and then stored in the refrigerator. Salad greens should not be stored near apples and other fruits that produce ethylene gases because the gas will increase brown spots on the lettuce and cause the lettuce to spoil sooner. All lettuce should be thoroughly washed to remove dirt and any insects.

MSSNY, the CDC and the 5-a-Day Partnership offer these tips for making lettuce a part of everyday meals.

Add lettuce to all sandwiches.

Try different mixes of lettuce for variety.

Spritz some olive oil onto romaine or radicchio leaves and grill until slightly soft.

Use any variety of lettuce as edible plate liners.

Plums should be plump

Plums come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and skin colors, including crimson, blue and purple. The flesh is usually yellow or reddish. Plums are low in fat and calories, free of sodium and cholesterol, and a good source of vitamin C.

If a fruit yields to gentle pressure, it is ready to eat. Plums that are firm (but not rock hard) can become softer but will not get any sweeter. To soften hard plums, put several in a loosely closed paper bag and let them stay there at room temperature for one or two days. Ripe plums can be stored in the refrigerator up to three days.

Plums are juiciest at room temperature. Always wash them before eating or cooking them.

Follow these tips to make plums a part of a daily diet:

• Chop plums into a fruit salad.

• Add plums to broiled or grilled fish.

• Use plums as part of fruit toppings for frozen yogurt, waffles and pancakes.

What’s up next?

The fruits and vegetables of the month until the end of the year are the following:

• September: pomegranate, eggplant

• October: apricot, spinach

• November: cranberry, winter squash

• December: quince, fresh beans