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Bounty of summer fruits, vegetables pack healthy punch

Published on Wednesday, June 1, 2022

By: Ruth Cummins

As Mississippians move into summer, they’ll find not just watermelon and tomato stands in abundance, but farmers’ markets that offer an array of tasty seasonal fruits and veggies.

Taking advantage of the bounty can help you to be healthy and fit, a University of Mississippi Medical Center preventive medicine specialist says.

Portrait of Elena Dent

“The key to getting the most health benefits from fruits and vegetables is to eat a variety,” said Dr. Elena Dent, an assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine.

Here’s what you can generally find at summer farmers’ markets, Dent says: fresh apples, blueberries, peaches, plums, green beans, butter beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplant, greens, okra, peas, bell peppers, hot peppers, sweet potatoes, yellow squash and zucchini, tomatoes and watermelons.

Oh, and don’t forget honey and pecans.

One of Dent’s favorite stops is the Mississippi Farmers Market on High Street in Jackson adjacent to the Mississippi Fairgrounds. Read all about it on the Mississippi Department of Agriculture website. Also available for those in search of fruits and veggies is the “What’s Fresh” newsletter. “They list what items will be at the Mississippi Farmers Market the upcoming weekend, as well as what vendors will be there,” Dent said.

Experts say certain fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, help prevent certain cancers and diminish risks of digestive and eye problems. Because most fruits and veggies are low in calories, they’re great for those watching their weight.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent dietary guidelines recommend that people needing 2,000 calories per day consume two cups of fruit and two and one-half cups of vegetables in their daily diets. Even so, the Department says, the average American falls far short of that, consuming only 0.9 cups total.

“I would definitely encourage all berries because they are high in vitamin C - good for the immune system, antioxidants - good for heart and overall health; and fiber - good for weight loss, gut health and heart health,” Dent said.

Dent and other experts offer these suggestions:

  • Store unwashed fruits and veggies in a loose or perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge.
  • Eat berries whole or in a smoothie. Don’t rinse or wash fresh berries until you are ready to eat them.

Blackberries, considered a “superfood,” have plenty of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. They’re great in a smoothie, on a salad or just popping into your mouth. Blueberries are low in calories and packed with antioxidants that fight cell damage and reduce inflammation. Some research suggests they boost brain function.

  • Eat bell peppers as a great way to get in vitamins A and C, antioxidants and potassium. Potassium is helpful in lowering blood pressure. Learn how to cut a bell pepper here. You can dice, stuff, roast, grill, dip or slice peppers and add them to salad, pasta or sandwiches.

“I love adding colorful bell peppers to pizza or dipping slices in hummus,” Dent said.

  • Veggies and fruits can be good for hydration. Cucumbers contain a lot of water that will help keep you hydrated during the hot summer months. Cucumbers provide fiber for gut, weight and heart health), vitamins A and C, vitamin K to help prevent blood clots and increase potassium levels.

Watermelon is just like its name – mostly water – so it’s a tasty way to keep hydrated. It has vitamins A, C and B, in addition to a healthy dose of potassium and antioxidants.

Other tasty summer selections include eggplant, which nutritionists say can help reduce stress and aid in managing diabetes and weight; cherries, which pack a punch of potassium, something most Americans don’t get enough of; peaches rich in antioxidants and a source of more than 10 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C; and kiwifruit, filled with fiber, folate and vitamin E. The fuzzy skin is actually the healthiest part of the fruit.

Chances are there’s a farmers’ market near you. For a complete list by Mississippi county, go here.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.