Drink plenty of water; cut back on sweets, salt and sodium; get regular exercise and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Whether the goal is to lose weight, prevent diseases, or fight off a sickness, those instructions serve as a base for most nutrition plans.
“Fruits and vegetables give you the vitamins and minerals you need and the anti-oxidants. Plus it’s also known that fruits are high in fiber, which promotes good gastrointestinal health,” says Dr. Harold Green Jr., of Richmond, Va., a specialist in internal medicine, critical care and sports medicine.
“They are also low in fatty content. So foods that are low in fatty contents help to reduce your risk of Type II Diabetes; plus your risk of heart disease is reduced.” But even as doctors push the greens, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention warns that they must be eaten safely.
“Fruits and veggies add nutrients to your diet that help protect you from heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. And choosing produce, including vegetables, fruits and nuts, instead of high-calorie foods also helps you manage your weight,” the CDC states in a report.
But like anything good, even fruits and vegetables can be dangerous if they are not cleaned, stored, or even cooked correctly.
“Sometimes raw fruits and vegetables may contain harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, which can make you and your family sick with food poisoning,” the CDC reports. “In the United States, nearly half of foodborne illnesses are caused by germs on contaminated fresh produce.”
The good news is that there are easy ways to avoid getting ill from fresh fruits and vegetables and to gain the extensive health benefits for which they were intended. The following are instructions outlined by the CDC for getting the most nutrition from produce by keeping it healthy and germ-free.
- The safer choices for fresh produce are vegetables and salads that are already washed. Unwashed fresh vegetables, including lettuce and salads, are more likely to make people sick with a foodborne illness.
- Sprouts are a particular concern because the warm, humid conditions needed to grow sprouts also are ideal for germs to multiply. It’s especially important to avoid raw sprouts if you are in a group more likely to get a foodborne illness: pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
- Throw away fruits and vegetables that are spoiled, bruised, damaged, or have been recalled.
- Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
- Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says that the contents have been pre-washed.
- Wash or scrub all fruits and vegetables under running water — even if you do not plan to eat the peel — so dirt and germs are not transferred from the surface to the inside when you cut the produce.,
- Dry fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate from other foods that could contaminate them, such as raw meat and seafood.
- Refrigerate fruits and vegetables that you have cut up, peeled or cooked as soon as possible, or within two hours. Refrigerate within one hour if the temperature outside is above 90°F. Chill them at 40°F or below in a clean container.
Information and photo courtesy of the CDC. For more information about fruits and veggies and to learn about events happening across the country to promote America’s fruit and vegetable intake, go to www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.