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Top Ten Spring Harvests

It's time to celebrate the fresh fruits and vegetables that arrive with spring.  Eating fruits and vegetables will help you stay healthy. Choosing fresh seasonal foods in your area can be economical and eco-friendly as farms across the country showcase their produce at local farmers' markets -- economical, fresh and delicious!  In honor of the season, we focus on ten stunners from the spring harvest!
  • Apricots: Apricots are true spring fruits, and are available beginning in May. Rich in carotenoids and phytonutrients that provide powerful antioxidant protection, they're  a great fresh resource for beta-carotene and lycopene, two carotenoids important in reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, along with healthy doses of vitamin C and fiber.  Fruit even beat out carrots as a eye health nutrient! A study published in the Archives of Opthamology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration, the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.
  • Asparagus: If there is a vegetable that signals the advent of spring harvests, it's asparagus. Packed with folate, high in vitamins A and C, it's also rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants. Folate deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world, and it is essential for heart health and the prevention of birth defects.  Remember, just one cup of cooked asparagus provides 67% of the daily value for folate, making it an important addition to everyone's spring diet!
  • Cherries: Cherries are gaining a reputation as a Super Food. Sweet cherries are available from May to August while sour cherries have a much shorter season of only a week or two, usually during the middle of June. Tart cherries are among the fruits with the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants and also contain other important nutrients such as beta carotene  - 19 times more than blueberries or strawberries,  vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, fiber and folate. Recent evidence indicates that cherries offer a broad variety of health benefits – easing the pain of arthritis and gout and reducing risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Cherries also contain melatonin, which helps to regulate the body’s natural sleep patterns, aid with jet lag, prevent memory loss and delay the aging process. And they're delicious!
  • Fava beans: Common in mediterranean and asian cuisine, fava beans are available in the U.S. from early spring through summer. They rank as a nutrient-dense food that offers considerable vitamins and minerals but contributes relatively few calories. Fava beans are low fat, saturated fat-free, cholesterol-free, and a good source of vitamin B1, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. Fava beans are also an excellent source of fiber, folate, and manganese.
  • Fennel: Fresh fennel is only available in the spring. With its distinct licorice-like flavoring, fennel is an excellent addition to salads and soups. Fennel is high in phytonutrients, including the flavonoids rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides, making it a powerful antioxidant. These phytonutrients reduce inflammation and the risk of cancer and when combined with fennel's high fiber, can help eliminate potentially carcinogenic toxins from the colon to prevent colon cancer.
  • Lettuce: We take lettuce for granted, but many varieties of spring lettuce pack a serious nutritional punch. Romaine is a heart-healthy green with a mixture of vitamin C and beta-carotene to help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, and the formation of arterial plaques. Additionally, romaine lettuce is one of the rare vegetables that contain a measurable amount of chromium, an important mineral in the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Spinach: Fresh spinach takes center stage in home gardens every spring, early plantings are almost ready to harvest! Spinach should be eaten as soon after harvest as possible, when the most nutrients are still maintained.  Featuring vitamin K for healthy bones and blood, vitamin C for immune function and vitamin A for eye health, it should be a regular visitor to your dinner table. How good is it really?  One cup of cooked spinach provides 294% of the RDA for vitamin A and over 1000% of the daily value for vitamin K!  Researchers have also found a minimum of 13 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as powerful antioxidants and anti-cancer agents, and carotenoids, important factors in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries are a spring favorite and come with multiple health benefits. One cup of strawberries contains over 100 mg of vitamin C.  We need vitamin C for immune system function and for strong connective tissue. Strawberries also contain calcium, magnesium, folate and potassium and are only 53 calories per cup. These sweet bits come with a warning because many strawberries are grown with strong pesticides, so look for organic or locally grown strawberries.
  • Swiss Chard: Calorie for calorie Swiss chard is one of the most nutritious vegetables around. It contains magnesium, which relaxes muscles and boosts levels of serotonin in the body. It's a great source of iron, especially important for vegetarians. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and E, two fat soluble vitamins that act as powerful antioxidants, along with other vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and protein. Swiss chard is also a great source of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, and flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, which help protect cell structures from the damage that can be caused by free radicals.
  • Vidalia Onions: Unlike other onion varieties, Vidalia onions have a short spring growing season. Vidalia onions contain more than one hundred sulfur-containing compounds which are thought to reduce the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory ailments. Additionally onions are a good source for flavonoids, which may offer protection against several forms of cancer, particularly breast cancers.
Enjoy spring's bounty, there's something for everybody and it's good for you!

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