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Revel in the seasonal colors and tastes of spring with these five fresh picks with distinct health and disease-fighting benefits
Blossom by blossom, spring is upon us. And with one of our favorite seasons comes fruits and vegetables that have climbed the top of the list with their time-tested, science-backed health benefits. Springtime offers fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors, including apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, broccoli, carrots, celery, kale, kiwifruit, lemons, peas, rhubarb, strawberries and so many more.
Here are five foods we've handpicked from the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide[i] as some of your healthiest choices for the season.
One medium spear of asparagus contains just 3 calories,[ii] but its magic lies in its amino acids and minerals, which researchers suggest enabled an extract of asparagus to shield liver cells against toxins from alcohol.[iii]
Asparagus is also known for diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties: it's traditionally used to support increased water excretion from the kidneys without affecting electrolyte balance, and demonstrates anti-inflammatory activity to aid in the increased metabolism of kidney cells.[iv]
Promising research from Rutgers University also studied two phytochemicals rich in asparagus that are thought to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in leukemia as well as colon cancer.[v]
A cup of shredded cabbage, equivalent to 70 grams, is a good source of fiber, potassium and calcium.[vi] Cabbage is a primary ingredient of kimchi, a traditional fermented Korean food known for a wealth of benefits including anticancer, anti-obesity, anti-constipation, antioxidant and antiaging properties, along with helping to balance cholesterol and enhance immunity.[vii]
The humble lime may be popularly known for margaritas and the rich and tangy key lime pie, but it has a formidable list of health benefits that shouldn't be ignored. Lime juice helps increase malarial clearance when combined with standard drug therapy for the mosquito-borne parasitic disease, for instance.[ix]
Lime juice may also tackle bacterial agents in food. A study found that ceviche, which may contain pathogenic agents from fish, could be fully sanitized with lime juice.[x] Lime may also help people who want to cut the smoking habit for good. A clinical trial comparing nicotine gum to lime juice extract concluded that fresh lime can be beneficial as "a smoking cessation aid."[xi]
Earthy and tasty, mushrooms are a favorite addition in many spring dishes. However, they do more than serve as a culinary delight. Thanks to their high quality of proteins, unsaturated fats, minerals, sterols and other components, mushrooms have been massively appreciated for their role in protecting against conditions such as immunodeficiency, cancer, high blood pressure, inflammation and obesity, to name a few.[xii]
Besides offering the tropical, refreshing flavors of spring, pineapples have impressive healing properties. Bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme extract from the plant, has been found in preclinical research to be superior to the chemotherapy agent 5-fluorouracil as an anti-tumor agent.[xiii]
Both bromelain and fresh pineapple juice have been tested and found beneficial on the early phase of healing in acute crush Achilles tendon injury.[xx] A separate study suggests bromelain can mitigate electrolyte imbalance in chronically constricted injury of the sciatic nerve, providing hope against neuropathic pain.[xxi]
[i] USDA Seasonal Produce Guide https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide
[ii] USDA.gov, Seasonal Produce Guide, Asparagus https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide/asparagus
[iii] Kim B et al "Effects of Asparagus officinalis Extracts on Liver Cell Toxicity and Ethanol Metabolism" J Food Sci. 2009 Sept 1. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01263.x
[iv] Dartsch P et al "Effect of Asparagus-P on cell metabolism of cultured kidney and inflammation-mediating cells" Phytother Res. 2008 Nov;22(11):1477-81.
[v] Shao Y et al "Steroidal saponins from Asparagus officinalis and their cytotoxic activity" Planta Med. 1997 Jun;63(3):258-62.
[vi] USDA.gov, Seasonal Produce Guide, Cabbage https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide/cabbage
[vii] Park K et al "Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food" J Med Food. 2014 Jan;17(1):6-20. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2013.3083.
[viii] Wang D et al "Phenethyl isothiocyanate upregulates death receptors 4 and 5 and inhibits proliferation in human cancer stem-like cells" BMC Cancer. 2014; 14 (1):591.
[ix] Adegoke S et al "Effects of lime juice on malaria parasite clearance" Phytother Res. 2011 Oct ;25(10):1547-50. Epub 2011 Mar 17.
[x] Mathurand P et al "Effect of lime juice on Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Salmonella enterica inactivation during the preparation of the raw fish dish ceviche" J Food Prot. 2013 Jun; 76(6):1027-30.
[xii] Ma G et al "A critical review on the health promoting effects of mushrooms nutraceuticals" Food Sci Hum Well. 2018 Jun; 7(2):125-33.
[xiii] Báez R et al "In vivo antitumoral activity of stem pineapple (Ananas comosus) bromelain" Planta Med. 2007 Oct;73(13):1377-83. Epub 2007 Sep 24.
[xiv] Secor E et al "Bromelain exerts anti-inflammatory effects in an ovalbumin-induced murine model of allergic airway disease" Cell Immunol. 2005 Sep;237(1):68-75. Epub 2005 Dec 6.
[xv] Secor Et al "Oral Bromelain Attenuates Inflammation in an Ovalbumin-induced Murine Model of Asthma" Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 Mar;5(1):61-9.
[xvi] Onken J et al "Bromelain treatment decreases secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines by colon biopsies in vitro" Clin Immunol. 2008 Mar;126(3):345-52. Epub 2007 Dec 21.
[xvii] Smirnova Iu et al "Flu virion as a substrate for proteolytic enzymes" Bioorg Khim. 2008 May-Jun;34(3):409-15.
[xviii] Bahde R et al "Bromelain ameliorates hepatic microcirculation after warm ischemia" J Surg Res. 2007 May 1;139(1):88-96. Epub 2007 Feb 8.
[xix] Batkin S et al "Antimetastatic effect of bromelain with or without its proteolytic and anticoagulant activity" J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 1988;114(5):507-8.
[xx] Aiyegbusi A et al "A comparative study of the effects of bromelain and fresh pineapple juice on the early phase of healing in acute crush achilles tendon injury" J Med Food. 2011 Apr;14(4):348-52. Epub 2011 Jan 23.
[xxi] Bakare A et al "Bromelain reversed electrolyte imbalance in the chronically constricted sciatic nerve of Wistar rats" Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2019 Oct 26. Epub 2019 Oct 26.