Smart Picks among Conventionally Grown Fruit
While Americans ate 28 percent more fresh fruit in 2000 than in the 1970s, current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures show that we could be doing better. Less than 40 percent of American adults and only 26 percent of children over the age of 1 eat the recommended two to five servings of fruit a day. And there are plenty of reasons why we should try to do better.
Simply put, fruits are among the most nutritious foods on the planet. They contain virtually no fat, and they're loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and health-protecting antioxidants. They also give you the satisfying sweetness of sugar without the empty calories of most other sweets. And fruit may even help you lose weight. USDA researchers recently found that people who eat more fruit tend to have a lower body mass index (a measure of your weight relative to your height) and lower overall weight.
So what fruits should you choose when organic isn't available? A number of fruits tend to be low in pesticide residues and have little negative impact on the environment. Coincidentally, they also tend to be higher in valuable nutrients than other varieties. Here's the rundown on which conventionally grown fruits you can choose with confidence.
Whenever you need healthy fruit fast, reach for bananas, plantains, pineapples, mangoes, papayas, or kiwifruits. Compared with other types of fruit, tropical fruits are sprayed less and have lower pesticide concentrations. They're also some of the most nutritious fruits available to us.
One banana supplies nearly 400 milligrams of potassium. Research shows that eating bananas a few times a week can help to lower your lifetime risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Bananas are also a good source of other electrolytes, which help to replace and regulate fluids lost during exercise. After your next workout, replenish yourself with a banana and some water instead of a bottle of sports drink. (Ditto when the kids come in from a full day of play.) If you find bananas labeled "Rainforest Alliance Certified" in your market, grab 'em. While not strictly organic, these bananas are grown using environmentally responsible practices you can feel good about.
Kiwis make another highly nutritious and low-pesticide choice. In fact, kiwis contain more nutrients per calorie than any other fruit. Two kiwis supply more potassium than a banana, as much fiber as grapefruit, and twice as much vitamin C as an orange. These little powerhouses are also high in glutamate and arginine, two amino acids that have been shown to help your body secrete growth hormones that reduce the effects of aging. Plus, a kiwi packs easily and has a refreshingly tart-sweet citrus-like flavor that kids tend to like.
Can't find kiwis? Try mangoes instead. Mangoes are low in chemical residues yet high in vitamin C, fiber, and beta-carotene. One mango provides 6 grams of fiber. That's more than what you'll get in a cup of cooked oat bran.
If kiwis, mangoes, or papayas are too hard to find in your area, try pineapple -- another tropical fruit that's usually lower-pesticide than many other fruits. Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that aids digestion by breaking down proteins. (That's one reason why pineapples go so well with pork -- bromelain acts as a natural meat tenderizer.) And pineapples are high in immunity-boosting vitamin C. One cup of pineapple chunks supplies 40 percent of your daily vitamin C needs, while 8 ounces of pineapple juice supplies 100 percent. For an even bigger shot of vitamin C, look for fresh "golden" pineapple imported from Costa Rica. It's sweeter and juicier, and it has more than four times the vitamin C of regular pineapple.
Most melons are low in pesticide residues and high in important nutrients. Both honeydew melons and cantaloupe provide high amounts of potassium and vitamin C and a fair amount of fiber. Cantaloupe also contains beta-carotene, which can help protect against cancer.
Some imported cantaloupe has been linked to outbreaks of salmonella poisoning, but it's such a healthy fruit, there's no reason to avoid it. To help reduce any salmonella risk, scrub the rind of cantaloupe under running water like you would a potato. A quick scrub before cutting into cantaloupe helps to eliminate any bacteria on the rind that could be carried to the fruit via the knife.
For the lowest pesticide residue among melons, sink your teeth into a stab of juicy watermelon. One of summer's supreme eating pleasures, watermelon also makes terrific soup.
Grapefruit and Other Citrus Fruits
Grapefruit carries a fairly low pesticide risk and ranks high in nutritional benefits. Grapefruit provides several powerful antioxidants that have been shown to help relieve cold symptoms, prevent cancer, and heal bruises. The fruit's high pectin content also supplies plenty of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.
While these may sound like age-related diseases, new research shows that health-boosting fruits such as grapefruit may help kids, too, to ward off cancer and heart disease in the long run. Give your kids a healthy head start by getting them in the habit of eating low-pesticide citrus like grapefruit, tangerines, and mandarin oranges.
Among citrus fruits, navel oranges are slightly higher in residues, but most of the pesticides are concentrated in the peel. If you're eating the fruit only, conventionally grown versions are reasonably safe. But if you plan to use the peel of oranges (or lemons or limes), the best bet for reducing pesticide exposure is to buy organic. As for orange juice, tests by the Consumers Union show that pesticide risks in conventional orange juice are fairly low.
You won't find a healthier berry than a blueberry. While most commercial berries are extremely high in insecticide residues, blueberries are among the lowest of any fruit. Plus, these little treasures are low in calories and high in vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They're also the number one source of antioxidants in the produce aisle. The compounds in blueberries can help prevent heart disease, urinary tract infections, and certain forms of cancer, as well as improve vision from a disease called macular degeneration. Recent studies even show that blueberries can play a role in boosting your memory and slowing the aging process.
When they're in season (July to September), keep blueberries in the fridge for tossing into cereal, whipping into fruit shakes, or making pies, crisps, and cobblers. Freeze them to enjoy during the rest of the year. Or try dried blueberries, which taste great in muffins and other quick breads. Blueberries pair well with poultry, too.
Most U.S.-grown grapes come from California and test low in pesticide residues. Look for them in markets from May to December. The other four months of the year, however, choose organic grapes to help protect your health. Imported grapes (usually shipped in from Chile) are available in U.S. markets year-round, but USDA data shows that 88 percent of imported grapes have high pesticide residues.
Whenever you reach for an organic or low-pesticide grape, you'll also reap some important health benefits. Grapes provide a fair amount of vitamin C and potassium and some boron, a mineral that can help strengthen your bones. Grapes also contain the natural plan chemical ellagic acid, which has been shown to help prevent cancer in laboratory studies by breaking down hydrocarbons, the cancer-causing substances in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.
Grapes are a natural for snacking and in fruit salads, but try them other ways, too. If you're concerned your fresh grapes may go bad before you get to eat them, toss them into a freezer bag and freeze them. On a hot day, pop a few frozen grapes into your mouth for a refreshing snack. Or add fresh grapes to sauces.
And there's more good news about grape juice. Most bottled and canned grape juices carry a low pesticide risk, according to tests conducted by Consumers Union. Purple grape juice also provides some of the same heart-protecting flavonoids found in red wine. These compounds help to lower blood cholesterol by preventing it from sticking to artery walls.
Many stone fruits (like peaches) are heavily sprayed with synthetic chemicals to ward off insects. But plums rank among the lowest of all fruits for insecticide residues.
Known as a good source of vitamin A and potassium, plums -- especially dried plums (also known as prunes) -- may even have properties that can stop the growth of the bacteria that cause food poisoning, according to new research. Scientists at Kansas State University mixed a small amount of plum extract with raw meat and found that it suppressed the growth of 90 percent of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7. The research is still preliminary, but until we find out more, it certainly doesn't hurt to pair plums with meat.
Garlicky Lemon Broccoli
Here's my family's standard side dish for broccoli. It's so simple, I hardly consider it a recipe. But my kids love eating broccoli this way, so there must be something to it. Hopefully, your whole family will like it, too.
2 heads broccoli, cut into florets
(about 5 cups)
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Put the broccoli in a steamer basket set over a pan of simmering water. Cover and steam until the broccoli is crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from the lemon into a large bowl. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream until thoroughly blended. Whisk in the garlic, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes (if using). Add the hot broccoli and toss to coat with the dressing.
Makes 4 servings
Choice Advice: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts rank consistently low in pesticide residues when grown by conventional methods.
Helping Hands: To quickly cut a head of broccoli into florets, cut off the stalk crosswise just below the base of the florets' small stems. The bottom layer of florets will fall away from the stalk. Continue cutting across the stems of the florets until all are removed. You can use the pieces of stem in this recipe, too. Just cut them into ½" pieces so they're cooked through when the florets are ready.
When buying fresh broccoli, look for heads with a dark purple color. These contain the most beta-carotene, which can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and cataracts.
Citrus-Grilled Chicken with Blueberry Mango Salsa
This recipe is all about fresh summer flavors. Orange, lime, cilantro, mango, and blueberries create a rainbow of taste. If you're out at the grill, give these a try. Or if you're going to the beach or on a picnic, take the grilled chicken along with you and serve with the salsa.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons lime juice
5 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 pasture-raised or organic boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 small mango, finely chopped
½ cup fresh blueberries
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or basil
In a medium bowl or resealable bag, stir together the oil, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Cover or seal and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
In another medium bowl or bag, combine the mango, blueberries, pepper sauce, and the remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 3 tablespoons onion, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir in the cilantro or basil.
Coat a grill rack with cooking spray. Preheat the grill to medium. Grill the chicken 4 " from the heat, basting occasionally with the marinade and turning once, until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F and the juices run clear, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve with the salsa.
Makes 4 servings
Helping Hand: To peel and pit a fresh mango, stand the fruit up -- right on a cutting board. Slice down through the flesh on one of the flatter sides, guiding the knife as close around the oval -- shaped pit as possible. Repeat on the other side to make two disks of fruit plus a third centerpiece containing the pit. For the centerpiece, cut off the peel and then cut the fruit off the pit; discard pit and peels.
Hold one of the remaining disks in your hand and very carefully score the flesh all the way down to the peel in a checkerboard pattern. Be careful not to let the knife pierce through the mango skin and into your palm. Push up through the center of the peel side of the disk to expose the cubes of flesh. Cut the flesh away from the peel and discard the peel. Repeat with the other disk.
Whole Grain Banana Walnut Muffins
Perfect for the kids' lunch box or as an after-school treat, these moist mini muffins make good snacking anytime. Of course, they're delish at breakfast, too.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or whole grain pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted organic butter, at room temperature
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 pasture-raised or organic eggs
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas
¼ cup organic 2% milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat thirty-six 1¾" muffin cups with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the bananas, milk, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Stir in the walnuts.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Transfer the muffins to racks to finish cooling.
Makes 36 mini muffins
Helping Hands: To make standard-size muffins, replace the mini-muffin pans with two 12-cup muffin pans and increase the baking slightly.
To freeze these muffins, cool completely and freeze in a resealable freezer bag. Reheat at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until heated through.
For Baby: Before stirring in the walnuts, fill a few muffin cups with the plain batter. Then stir the walnuts into the remaining batter. Let the baby nosh on the nut-free muffins.
Reprinted from: Fresh Choices: More Than 100 Easy Recipes for Pure Food When You Can't Buy 100% Organic by David Joachim and Rochelle Davis © 2004 by David Joachim and Rochelle Davis. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold.