Step into summer with more fruit

With the first day of summer occurring in June, there is no better time than now to enjoy the many delicious fruits that are in season. An important part of healthy eating is choosing a variety of nutrient-rich foods and including them in your daily diet. One should aim to include at least two cups of fruit per day. Fruits in season during the summer months include apricots, cherries, figs, citrus fruits, mangos, peaches, pineapple, berries, melons, nectarines and plums.
Most fruits are good sources of many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and fiber. Many fruits, especially berries, also function as antioxidants, which protect healthy body cells from free-radical damage. This provides protection against chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant found in a number of fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe and mangos, that helps fight infection, promotes wound healing, and increases iron and folate absorption. Vitamin A is found in apricots, watermelon, cantaloupe and peaches, and is essential for normal growth, development and maintenance of body tissue. It also promotes proper vision.
Potassium is a mineral needed for muscle contraction, fluid and mineral balance, and it helps maintain normal blood pressure. Good sources of potassium include cantaloupe, honeydew melons, mangos, bananas, apricots, nectarines, oranges, strawberries, peaches and dried fruit.
Many fruits are also good sources of fiber. Fiber has many health benefits, such as helping to prevent constipation, lowering cholesterol and preventing weight gain, since most high fiber foods are lower in calories and make you feel full longer.
Fruits are available in many different varieties, including fresh, frozen, canned and dried, and they can all be equally nutritious and healthy. With frozen fruits, try to select those that are unsweetened instead of sweetened. Choose canned fruits packed in their own juice or unsweetened as opposed to those packed in syrup. With dried fruits, be sure to check food labels, because some varieties tend to be higher in calories than fresh, frozen or canned fruits.
Finally, the following are a few ideas to help you start adding more fruit to your diet:
n Add fresh or dried fruits to cereal, oatmeal, pancakes or muffins.
n Choose a dessert that includes fruit if you are responsible for the dessert at your next get-together.
n Add dried fruit, such as cranberries or raisins, to salads.
n Try a frozen fruit bar for a snack but check the food label to see if it is made with real fruit.
n Try grilling fruit by placing halved nectarines, plums or peaches on a grill that has been brushed with canola oil. Cover and cook until grill marks form and fruit is heated through, five to 10 minutes.
n Make a fruit salad by combining honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon and drizzle with honey-herb glaze, made by dissolving 1 tablespoon of honey in 1/2 cup water over medium heat and adding a handful of herbs, such as thyme, basil, lavender and mint; let cool.

Fruity Bruschetta
1 mango, diced
1 small banana, diced
1/2 cup diced strawberries
1 French baguette about 2 inches in thickness and at least 6 inches long
2 tablespoons light whipped butter or light buttery spread
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 no-calorie sweetener packets
1/3 cup fat-free fruit-flavored yogurt
Preheat broiler. Stir all fruit together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Using a sharp serrated knife, carefully cut 16 one-quarter-inch-thick slices from the baguette. Lay bread slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Set aside. Place butter in a small microwave safe bowl and microwave until just melted. Add cinnamon and sweetener and mix well. Brush the tops of the bread slices with butter mixture. Place the baking sheet about five inches beneath the broiler and let broil for three minutes, or until tops are slightly bubbly. Evenly distribute chilled fruit among the bread slices and top each with a teaspoon of yogurt.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutritional info per 2-piece serving: 78 calories, 1.5g fat, 92mg sodium, 15g carbs, 1g fiber

April Hancock is a clinical dietitian with North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

Ginna Parsons