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Just How Nutritious Are Those Summer Fruits and Veggies?

I spent time last week sitting on a beach chair in Ocean City (wearing plenty of sunscreen!) reading Julia Child's delightful memoir My Life in France. Apart from her riveting account of living (and eating) in France during the late 1940s and 1950s, the thing that struck me most about Child's tale of the years during which she conceived of and wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking was how arduous a task creating that book was. (The recent release of the movie "Julie & Julia" inspired me to read Child's memoir.)

Child (and, to varying degrees, her colleagues Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck) painstakingly researched every aspect of that 750-page book, from the basic ingredients to the elaborate preparations, writing recipes for French culinary staples in such a way that a regular American housewife could follow them. And she did all of this by visiting markets and chefs in person, working her way through recipes and techniques, corresponding via telephone and mail. To get a simple answer to a simple question, she might have to wait days or weeks for a letter to arrive. Then she typed the whole manuscript -- several drafts, in fact -- on a typewriter.

The mind boggles. Today an aspiring Julia Child would certainly have to do much of her homework in person. But imagine attempting such a feat without the Internet, the quick answers Google provides, the immediate contact with others we have through e-mail.

I was thinking about this when I started to write today's blog about the nutritional value of summer produce. (Of course, just about any fruit or vegetable is available fresh, frozen or canned all the year 'round. I'm focused on those that are in their prime, locally, in the summer months.)

In Child's day, I would have had to scrounge around in libraries or ask scientists to share whatever information might have then been known about the vitamin content of beets versus zucchini. Today, I tapped out a Google query and found that our federal government has prepared handy charts delineating the nutrients in dozens of our favorite (and less-favorite) fruits and vegetables.

Some summer produce stacks up better than others. As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, corn fares better when viewed as a whole grain than as a vegetable; its fiber content trumps the rather modest supply of nutrients it provides.

Summer's true stars are the red-hued and otherwise deeply-colored fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, watermelons and strawberries provide lots of antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin A plus lots of fiber for very few calories. (Oddly, blueberries, considered nutritional powerhouses for the antioxidants in their skin, don't make the government's charts.) Compare a summertime cantaloupe (50 calories per a quarter of the melon, 450 millligrams of potassium, 1 gram of fiber, 120 percent of the daily value (DV) for Vitamin A and 80 percent of the DV for Vitamin C) to an autumn apple (130 calories for a large apple, 260 mg of potassium, 5 grams of fiber, 2 percent of the DV for Vitamin A and 8 percent of the DV for Vitamin C). Calorie for calorie, I'd take the cantaloupe (though too bad it has so little fiber).

On the other hand, a medium sweet potato, which feels like a cold-weather vegetable to me, has 100 calories, 440 mg of potassium, 4 grams of fiber, 120 percent of the DV for Vitamin A and 30 percent of the DV for Vitamin C. Compare that to a half of a summer squash: 20 calories, 260 mg of potassium, 2 grams of fiber, 6 percent of the DV for Vitamin A and 30 percent of the DV for Vitamin C.

When it comes down to it, though, fruits and vegetables of all seasons and all nutritional makeups are great for you, and eating a variety of them every day is one of the best ways to maintain good health. So whether you pick a pepper or choose a cherry, eat up. As Julia Child would say, "Bon appetit!'

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 25, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Comments

Jennifer,

You left out a few interesting facts. The red bell pepper, for instance, has more Vitamin C than a large orange (about 200% DV)

Another interesting fact and incentive to growing your own food is the Omega-3 fatty acids found in yellow squash and zucchini. A health benefit only realized if you eat it fresh off the vine. By the time it gets to the store or even the farmers market it will have virtually lost all of its value of this essentail nutrient.

For Home tomato gardeners, the lycopene content in tomatos increases the longer you leave it on the vine. If you let the tomato get to the point where it is so ripe it starts to feel soft when you squeeze it its at its peak. Pull it off the vine and roast it or stew it imeaditately (to activate it) and one large tomato will have the same lycopene content as half a watermelon.

Posted by: akmzrazor | August 28, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

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