GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month, which means its the perfect time to incorporate some delicious, and healthy, options into your diet.
Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She joined My West Michigan Monday with a small history lesson about Michigan's agriculture industry and tips on how to add in fresh produce to your everyday diet.
If anyone tries to tell you that Michigan is only known for its industrial history, tell them to think again! Aside from automotive and advanced manufacturing, agriculture happens to be one of Michigan’s biggest industries.
Agriculture alone contributes over $101 billion annually to the state economy and exports more than $3.2 billion worth of goods to countries like Mexico, Japan and Canada. The reason for this high level of production is Michigan’s micro-climates, which support the growth of more than 300 commercial commodities. This kind of crop selection makes Michigan the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation.
This diversity also makes it more likely to buy Michigan made goods when shopping at the grocery store. It’s a good way to support our domestic economy and it just tastes better.
Here are a few agricultural products that Michigan is a champ at producing:
- Cucumbers (for pickling) – Michigan ranks first nationally for the production of cucumbers for pickling. If you’re anything like me, you didn’t know that pickles started out as cucumbers until you read this article. By soaking them in a brine, vinegar or other solution to ferment, these cucumbers will give you great homemade dill pickles.
- Apples – Apples are another one of Michigan’s top exports. Michigan harvested a whopping 1.175 billion pounds of apples in 2016. Of this large harvest, almost 60 percent of apples have been processed into other products. This formula results in one of Michigan’s best fall activities: visiting apple orchards and cider mills. With 850 family-run farms and 36,500 acres of apple trees, orchards and mills serve as a provider of delicious fruit and a fun seasonal activity.
- Asparagus – The mitten state is America’s third largest asparagus producers, measuring 23 million pounds annually. It is also harvested differently, as it is hand-snapped at the stalk above ground instead of below ground making it more flavorful and tender.
- Cherries – The state of Michigan produces more cherries than any other state in the nation, accounting for over 70 percent of the cherries produced in America. Traverse City hosts the annual National Cherry Festival as a testament to this reputation.
Look for these Michigan-grown produce options at the store throughout the summer:
- End of May: Peas
- Beginning of June: Beans, blackberries, squash, strawberries
- End of June: Cherries
- Beginning of July: Cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, nectarines, peaches, peppers, raspberries
- End of July: Beets, blueberries
- Beginning of August: Apples, Asian pears, cabbage (2nd growing season), sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon
First, if you’re buying local or growing your own, it means a shorter time between harvest and your table, so fruits and vegetables will likely have retained more of their nutrients. But, all these fruit and vegetable options are good for you. For example:
- Apples – The pectin in apples helps to lower a person’s LDL cholesterol, which is the bad cholesterol. There is some evidence that proves eating 2 apples per day has the capability to lower LDL by as much as 16%.
- Research has shown that the nutrients in the apple, specifically the pectin, quercetin, naringin and other antioxidants help prevent lung, breast, colon and liver cancers.
- Apples also have a variety of phytonutrients that help manage and prevent diabetes, by decreasing the need for insulin and helping to regulate blood sugar. Apples are also good for the digestive and gastrointestinal tract secondary to the nutrients and fiber it provides.
- Asparagus – Asparagus contains B6, A, C, E and K and is dense with niacin, folic acid iron potassium. The trace minerals found in asparagus help to enhance insulin’s ability to transport glucose through the blood stream.
- Cherries – Naturally powerful as an anti-inflammatory agent, which aids many different conditions, like arthritis.
- Lowers the risk factors of heart disease, from decreasing inflammation, body fat and cholesterol levels.
- Tart cherries, specifically, help reduce arthritis and inflammation, while sweet cherries, in particular, fight cancerous cells.
- The anthocyanin found in cherries is known to improve memory.
- Cherries aid in keeping the eyes and retina healthy.
- The melatonin found in cherries helps regulate sleep cycles, allowing for more peaceful sleep.
- Cucumbers – Cucumbers are low in calories but high in many important vitamins and minerals including vitamins K and C, as well as potassium, manganese and magnesium. They also have a high water content and are made up of about 96% water.
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