Eight times a day. That’s how many times you should be eating a serving of fruits and vegetables. Nature’s bounty doesn’t only look pretty, it’s also incredibly good for you.
Studies have found that a diet that’s rich in veggies and fruits can have a number of different health benefits including:
Fruits in particular are important because they deliver carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and can serve as a much healthier alternative to sugary snacks (but still satisfy a sweet tooth).
However, the key is eating many different kinds of fruits and veggies of all different shapes, colors, sizes, and varieties. No one piece of produce can provide the full range of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy lifestyle, so mix it up for the best balance and optimal nutrition.
It’s also important to eat fresh produce as much as possible. The fresher the fruit, the higher the nutritional value. A big help is knowing what kinds of fruits are in season at any given time of the year, what nutrition they provide, and creative ways to serve them.
Believe it or not, fruits can thrive in the winter months and many are full of vitamins that can stave off contagious bugs during cold and flu season.
Bananas are in season throughout the winter because they’re harvested in warmer climates including South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. They are great in smoothies, sliced up on top of peanut butter toast, and make a perfect portable snack with numerous health benefits:
Grapefruits were first bred in the 18th century when a pomelo was crossed with an orange. They get their name from the way they grow since they’re clustered similarly to grapes. While they hail from Florida, grapefruits are also harvested throughout Texas and tropical climates, which means they can thrive in the winter. They have become more and more popular over the years as research continues to uncover all the additional health benefits they can provide, including:
Known for their mild, sweet flavor and fibrous meat, there are 3,000 varieties of pears worldwide, including some that actually look like apples (see the Asian pear). They thrive in cool and temperate climates like Oregon and Washington state, with a history dating back to 1000 B.C. Sometimes called butter fruit for their soft texture, they have many important positive effects.
TRY: Tahini-Pear Tea Cake
Winter is all about the vitamin C, with oranges leading the way as one of the most popular fruits (and fruit juices). But it’s important to eat the fruit raw, too, since juice is often filled with added sugars, while the fruit itself contains a huge number of vitamins and minerals. Oranges have more than 170 phytochemicals and 60-plus flavonoids, delivering huge antioxidant effects as well as other health boosts.
Springtime gives way to even more fresh fruits, as the produce that is normally out of season during the colder weather becomes more readily available. This is also when prices on fruits that are typically out of season begin to drop as they become more accessible in the market.
The history of the mango dates back 5,000 years ago, when they were first grown in India. Some say Buddha used to meditate under mango trees and the fruit’s shape later inspired the popular paisley pattern, which also originated in the country.
Today, they are sourced from a number of tropical locations as well as Florida, California, and Texas, and are most in season during the spring. Mangos taste great on their own or added to salsa and lemonade—and they have a great nutritional profile, which makes them even tastier:
Pineapples are arguably one of the prettiest fruits available; their name was given by European explorers who discovered them in America and thought they had a strong resemblance to pine cones. The flowered buds on pineapples are actually a byproduct of the cluster of berries that then fuse around the core and become the juicy part we eat. It takes the fruit three years to mature, but it’s well worth the wait given all the positive benefits it offers:
Strawberries are a mystery fruit—in fact, some might say they’re not a fruit at all, but rather an enlarged receptacle of a flower that belongs to the rose family. Strawberries are the only “fruit” to wear their seeds on the outside, and nearly 200 small seeds are in every single one. They’re great for making smoothies or ice cream and other dessert recipes, which are made even sweeter by all the great health benefits:
Summertime is when most fruits are in season, and purchasing fresh fruit is quite easy. Buying local or from farmers’ markets during this time of year is the best option for the tastiest and most nutrient-dense fruit.
Few things say “summer” quite like fresh watermelon. It’s a cousin to other seasonal produce like cucumbers as well as fall staples like pumpkin and squash since it has a thick outer skin. In fact, one of the first cookbooks for sale in the States in 1776 offered a recipe for pickled watermelon rinds. While watermelons are about 92 percent water, the rest of what makes up this fruit is important for your health, too.
TRY: Watermelon Gazpacho
Grapes are available in more than 8,000 varieties, in colors as vast as green, red, black, yellow, pink, and purple. They are mostly native to the Americas and Europe, and are great on their own, mashed up for jellies, fermented into wine, or dried up for raisins. It’s such a usable fruit that more than 72 million tons are produced every year. The entire grape is healthy, but the skin is the healthiest part with all of these nutrients:
Kiwi fruit is named for where it originated, in Australia and New Zealand, but today it’s also grown in California. Its fuzzy brown skin is deceiving, because inside is a gorgeous green fruit with a heart-shaped core and tiny black seeds that are incredibly good for you. It has as much fiber as many whole grain cereals and has the best nutrient density of most popular fruits:
TRY: Mango Rose Smoothie Bowl (with kiwi)
During the fall, a number of the fruits listed above are in season—in particular bananas, grapes, pears, and pineapples. But for many, fall means that one thing: apple and pumpkin season.
An apple a day is actually really good for you, and studies have found that the combination of antioxidants, flavonoids, and dietary fiber inside can lead to a wide range of health benefits. There are numerous types of apples available, including tart, sweet, and crisp—all of which offer similar effects:
Yes, pumpkin is a fruit. It develops from a flower much like its cousin watermelon. And when you add it to traditional holiday pie or everyday smoothies, you might notice how sweet it can be. But the real reason to celebrate it is for all of its inherent nutritional values.
TRY: Maple Pumpkin Pie
Figs are another fall staple, with California producing 98 percent of the fresh fig population and 100 percent of the dried variety. But they actually date back to ancient times—some claim the Biblical story about Adam and Eve was actually centered around figs (and not apples), and the earliest Olympians are said to have received fig “medals.” This little fruit is also memorable in a healthy way:
TRY: Fig and Nut Crackers
Here’s a convenient chart listing out all your favorite fruits by season so you can always ensure you’re getting the freshest picks.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho
Illustration credit: Foley Wu
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