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Have you ever heard the saying, “food is medicine”? It can certainly be true if you select the right food to nourish your body. Fruits and vegetables are some of the best medication available, and they do not even require a prescription.

Study after study point to the health benefits and disease fighting attributes of fruits and vegetables. A diet full of produce can help prevent cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and cardiac disease while promoting good gastrointestinal health and helping with weight management. This is all because fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also naturally low in fat and include thousands of diverse antioxidants (beneficial plant chemicals).

By consuming fruits and vegetables that are a variety of colors, you will reap all sorts of benefits. Summer is the ideal time to find an assortment of produce in stores, at farmer’s markets and in your own garden. When you eat fruits and vegetables that are in season, you get to enjoy the incredibly fresh flavor that comes from them having matured on the vine, tree or bush.

Here are just a few fruits and vegetables you can find this summer that boast unique health benefits:

Raspberries [Rubus ideaus] -- can be found in red, yellow, black or purple. Each variety has its own vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Raspberries are a powerful antioxidant fruit with the ability to lower blood pressure and help prevent stroke and obesity. They also help regulate the immune system to decrease inflammation. Looking to lose weight? Raspberries have 8 grams of fiber per cup. Fiber-rich foods like raspberries can help with weight management, blood sugar and fullness. A recent study looked at raspberry consumption at breakfast among people who had pre-diabetes, were overweight and had insulin resistance. They found that those that consumed two cups of raspberries at breakfast had lower blood sugar one hour and 24 hours after the meal.

Carrots [Daucus carota] -- are a staple in many kitchens and for good reason. They are tasty, versatile and affordable. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and they even grow in Montana making them a great choice for novice gardeners. Carrots come in all different colors, but the most commonly known orange carrots are chock full of beta carotene, a molecule that is converted into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for vision, and the reason carrot consumption is often associated with eye health. Do you have someone in your life who does not like eating their veggies? Mix it up by offering widely available and fun purple, white and yellow carrot varieties!

Beets [Beta Vulgaris] -- are found in deep reddish purple, pink, white or yellow colors. They are known to contain inorganic nitrates that may improve blood flow, decrease blood pressure and increase exercise performance (especially high intensity running or cycling). Beets are good for your gut because they feed your friendly gut bacteria. They are high in vitamin C, folate, manganese, potassium and iron. Beets have a high oxalate content, and care should be taken to not overeat beets if kidney stones are an issue. Beets can be used cooked or raw, and don’t forget, the beet tops are also edible. You can make an ‘Aussie Burger’ with a slice of beet on top of your patty.

Kohlrabi [Brassica oleracea] -- is a tuberous, round vegetable that is also known as the German turnip. Kohlrabi is white or purple. It tastes similar to broccoli stem, water chestnut or cabbage, but is milder and sweeter. Did you know that kohlrabi has more vitamin C content than an orange? It is also rich in vitamins A, B, K and other minerals. Because it has a lot of antioxidant isothiocyanate, it helps the body protect and fight against cancer and may decrease the growth of malignant tumors. Other health benefits include improved digestion, as well as eye, teeth, gum and connective tissue health. It can be eaten raw in salads and slaw. Or you can eat it like they do in Cyprus: slice it and sprinkle it with salt and lemon juice! The leaves are edible too.

Artichoke [Cynara carunculus] -- Castroville, California is the “Artichoke Center of the World”, but you can find them in produce sections right here in Helena. Harvested in spring, artichokes are usually cooked or steamed. The fleshy lower part of the leaves can be eaten alone or with mayonnaise, aioli or Hollandaise. Powerful antioxidants in artichokes are associated with cancer prevention (especially liver and breast), liver detox, weight management, blood glucose improvement and cardiovascular health. They are also known to increase urine production, so people with already overactive bladders should watch their consumption.

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Yvonne Tapper-Gardzina, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietician and a Lifestyle Coach for the Inch by Inch Program at St. Peter’s Health. Inch by Inch is part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program. The 12-month nutrition and physical activity course focuses on prevention of diabetes and heart disease through lifestyle change. To learn more visit www.sphealth.org.

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