Spring Clean Your Diet
Fresh fruits and vegetables abound during the spring, so make room for these nutritional powerhouses. By: Katherine Brooking, M.S., R.D.
Spring has arrived, and with longer days and warmer weather comes a new crop of fresh produce. ‘Tis the perfect season to “spring clean” your diet, so out with the heavy fall and winter fare and in with springtime fruits and veggies. In-season produce reaps the most nutritional value so here's what to look for on the produce aisle or at the local farmers' market.
Strawberries are available year-round in most areas of the country, but their peak season is from April until June. These sweet, juicy berries are nutritional jewels with just 1 cup offering 3.5 grams of fiber and meeting 100% of your daily vitamin C needs. For the best flavor, buy strawberries grown close to home since they are likely to be fresher and suffer less damage in transit. Strawberries should be plump, firm, well shaped, and uniformly colored. A sweet addition to salads, dressings, or even a main meal, strawberries “take the cake” and save your waistline as a light dessert.
Dubbed the “food of kings” by Louis XIV of France, asparagus definitely have a royal nutritional profile. Low in fat and high in fiber, these tender stalks are a good source of iron, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Asparagus are at their peak from March through June but can be purchased year-round. Once harvested, asparagus deteriorate rapidly, so place them in cool storage to retain freshness and nutrition. Delicious roasted, grilled, or lightly sautéed in olive oil, these seasonal spears make a tasty addition to any meal.
Succulent sweet cherries are only available during the late spring and early summer, so make sure to enjoy your fill. Sweet cherries are high in fiber and potassium, while remaining low in calories―just 1 cup of sweet cherries is about 100 calories. The intense color of cherries is due partly to their anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are a type of plant chemical (phytochemical) that are believed to be high in antioxidant activity. The best cherries are large (an inch or more in diameter), plump, firm, and rich in color and are equally delicious as a snack or dessert.
Fresh peas including sugar snap peas, snow peas, and green peas can usually be found year-round but are at their peak from April through July. Like most legumes, peas are low in fat and high in fiber and are a good source of plant protein. Their nutritional profile differs depending on variety, with green peas providing more B vitamins and zinc, while snow and snap peas offer more vitamin C. Peas are perfect as crudités with dips, tossed in salads, and served as a side dish.
For a burst of flavor with very few calories, look no further than the radish. Radishes are root vegetables with a distinctive flavor that ranges from mild to sharp, depending on variety. One cup of sliced red radishes will give you 30% of your daily vitamin C requirement in less than 25 calories. To choose the best, pick radishes that are deep in color with solid roots. This root vegetable is a flavorful addition to soups, condiments, and cooked dishes. You can also eat the green tops, which lends a peppery taste to salads.
With their rich, hearty flavor, fava beans are a terrific addition to soups, salads, or main dishes. Due to their high protein and fiber content, these beans help to keep you feeling full for longer. Young favas can be shelled and eaten raw or cooked, but more mature favas must be both shelled and skinned, as the skins are too tough to eat.
For a boost of beta-carotene, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber in a sweet 50-calorie bundle, be sure to bring home apricots from the farmers' market or grocery store. The peak season for this fresh fruit is from May to August. Sandwiches, snacks, jams, salsas, and salads will all be just a bit sweeter and delicious with apricots.
While artichokes are harvested year-round, the crop peaks from March through May. A 2-ounce serving (approximately the size of the bottom of one large artichoke) has about 3 grams of fiber and just 25 calories. Artichokes are also a good source of iron, potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamin C. Try them served in dips, or bake and toss in pastas or salads.
Although technically a vegetable, rhubarb is often used as a fruit and is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese. Rhubarb stalks (the only part of the plant that should be eaten) are very tart but when sweetened, give rich flavor and texture to sauces and pies. Rhubarb can also be blanched, diced, and added to salsas and salads. Rhubarb is available in some locations year-round, however, field-grown varieties are harvested from April through July.
Cone-shaped with a spongy texture, morels are a springtime delicacy making an entrance at fine restaurants and farmers' markets in early spring through late June. A member of the truffle family, these wild mushrooms are best known for their honeycomb texture and nutty flavor. The spongy texture of morels make them ideal for soaking up flavorful sauces. Pair with other spring veggies like asparagus, spring onions, and green peas or toss in pastas, sautés, and salads.