A diet rich in fruits can reduce many health risks

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Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce your risk for stroke, coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, kidney stones and bone loss.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 2 cups of fruits every day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. You also may need to eat more or less, depending on your calorie level.

Fruits contain several nutrients. Some of the main nutrients are potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate and many types of phytochemicals.

Potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruits that are good sources of potassium are bananas, prunes and prune juice, dried peaches and apricots, pomegranates, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapefruit, oranges and orange juice.

Dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, may lower risk of heart disease, helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis and helps provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Most whole or cut-up fruits contain fiber. Fruit juices contain little or no fiber.

Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds, keeps teeth and gums healthy and aids in iron absorption. Fruits that are good sources of vitamin C include pomegranates, guava, kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple and mangoes.

Folic acid (sometimes called folate) helps to form red blood cells and is important during pregnancy to reduce a woman's risk of having a baby with a spinal cord defect or brain defect. Fruits containing folic acid are oranges and avocados.

Phytochemicals help protect against diseases, serve as antioxidants, detoxifiers, immune boosters and anti-inflammatories. Inflammation plays a major role in heart attacks, some cancers, allergies, Alzheimer's Disease and autoimmune diseases. Two common phytochemicals found in fruits are anthocyanins (in blueberries, cherries, blackberries and raspberries) and quercitin (in apples).

Richly colored fruits and vegetables contain the most vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This includes all purple, deep red, bright orange, bright yellow and dark green plant foods. Enjoy some of every color daily.

What counts as a cup of fruit? One medium-sized piece of fruit, 1 cup of cut-up fruit, 1 cup of 100 percent fruit juice, 1/2 cup dried fruit, 1 large banana (8 to 9 inches long), 2 peach halves, 32 seedless grapes, 1/4 of a medium cantaloupe, 8 large strawberries or 2 large plums.

There are easy ways to include more fruit in your diet. Keep a bowl of fresh whole fruit on the counter, the table or in the refrigerator for an easy snack. Mix fresh fruit with plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt. Serve fresh-fruit salads often. To keep the apples, bananas and pears from turning brown, add acidic fruits such as pineapple, oranges or lemon juice.

Dried fruit carries well, and it's an excellent snack to tuck in a purse or backpack. Remember that dried fruit is more concentrated in nutrients, so you need to eat only half the amount of fresh fruit to get approximately the same amount of nutrients. One-fourth cup of dried fruit is equal to 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, which would be a normal portion.