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NC’s No-Diet Diet

Every January, we all make the promise to eat better, get in shape and lead healthier lifestyles. Inevitably, few of us stick to this lofty promise. If you’re one of the many who succumb to the onslaught of office goodies or game day grease, you’re not alone. The good news is that North Carolina’s long growing season and geographical diversity provide perfect conditions for fresh, local fruits and veggies year round.

So no more excuses! Cancel the cake, hock the hot dog and let 2011 be the first year you keep your pledge to get healthy! Straight from North Carolina’s Fruit & Vegetable Availability chart showing what’s in season each month, here are 11 healthy and delicious reasons to stick to your resolution throughout the year.

And to help keep you motivated, we’ll post healthy recipes on the 11th day of each month featuring seasonal items found at your local farmers markets or groceries. Here’s to your health!

1. Sweet Potatoes in February: Sweet potatoes top the list of heart healthy produce. Instead of the standard box of chocolates, whip up a delicious dinner for your Valentine, all showcasing the heart-health benefits of the sweet potato – vitamins A, C, iron and fiber, just to name a few.

2. Lettuce in March: Lettuce varieties sprout in early spring and are packed with tons of nutrients like vitamins A, C and K, beta-carotene and folic acid. Not all lettuce is created equal, however, so look for dark green varieties like Romaine, Butter Crunch or Royal Red.

3. Strawberries in April: What better way to stick to that diet than with a bowlful of sweets! Strawberries are a wonderful source of antioxidants and vitamin C. Delicious on their own or paired with your favorite low fat yogurt, granola or salad, eat them by the handful completely guilt-free.

4. Broccoli and Cabbage in May: Broccoli and cabbage are most prevalent in May. A North Carolina staple, broccoli slaw or traditional coleslaw can be loaded in fat and calories. Try trimming back with vinegar based varieties. Low in calories and high vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium and fiber – broccoli and cabbage are the perfect foods to keep you on track as bathing suit weather approaches.

5. Peaches in June: With options like berries, peaches and melons, there’s no better way to get your daily intake of fruit than with these local favorites. Blueberries peak in June and are high in antioxidants, which help stop the production of free radicals and prevent cancer-causing cell damage. 

6. Veggies in July: Hail the mighty vegetable! From leafy greens, beans, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, peppers and corn, no other month produces more vegetables than July. Check out WakeMed’s Recipe Corner  for a variety of healthy recipes complete with nutritional information featuring these locally grown veggies.

 7. Watermelon in August: Nothing says summer like watermelon. The perfect addition to any backyard barbeque, watermelon is full of heart healthy beta-carotene and lycopene, helping to reduce the risk of cancers, such as prostate, lung and stomach.

8. Muscadine Grapes in September: North Carolina is noted for the muscadine grape. With their thick, tart skin, muscadine grapes have six times more antioxidants than standard grapes.  

9. Pumpkin in October: By far, pumpkin is the most widely eaten vegetable in the fall. Usually found in pies, cookies, muffins and cakes, pumpkin easily gets a bad wrap. But pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, and zinc. Try roasting pumpkin for a nutritious side dish.

10. Pecans in November: Pecans are packed with vitamin E, antioxidants, plant sterols and fiber. Most importantly, they contain heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.

11. Apples in December: We’ve all heard it, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, here’s why. Apples have tons of soluble and insoluble fiber, which has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol and help prevent heart disease.

There you have it. With such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown in our great state, there’s no better reason to ring in the next year 11 pounds lighter!

Kristen Klecha is a clinical dietician, RD, WakeMed Cary Hospital