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Visit the small stands that sell locally grown produce on the fringes of your community parks. Fresh fruit is everywhere and it would be nearly impossible to resist the ripe berries, bright oranges, tart apples, sweet peaches and juicy mangoes. So why try? Indulge. Fruits are great tasting and extremely good for your health.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help with weight loss, give you more energy for exercising, reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases and development of some cancers as well as lower blood pressure and help reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). This spring, apricots, grapes, pineapples, and strawberries will be at their best and summer will offer ripe avocados, cherries, blueberries, peaches and watermelons, among others.

Lei Ming of Flushing loves berries and pineapples. "The juicy flesh of the pineapple refreshes me when I am out in hot New York summers." It is not surprisingly that fruit replenishes. Fruits are made up of approximately 80 percent water, contain a large number of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and plant phytochemicals that help benefit health. Fruit is one of the most healthy and natural foods in existence.

Nutrition sources

Fruits are beneficial because of their array of compounds. Great sources of Vitamin A include apricots, cantaloupe, mango and pumpkin. Get your Vitamin C from apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi fruit, mango, oranges, pineapple, plums, strawberries, tangerines and watermelon. Fiber can be found in apples, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, dates, figs, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, oranges, pears, prunes, raspberries and strawberries.

As well as vitamins and minerals, fruits also contain many complex plant components (called phytochemicals), including flavonoids, glucosinilates and phyto-oestrogens. Some of the vitamins and phytochemicals are also antioxidants, destroying free radicals in the body. These free radicals are known to have a role in causing cancer as well as other harmful effects.

Fruits do contain carbohydrates and a small amount of protein, but very little, if any, fat. Carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and fats are the primary sources of energy (calories) in the diet. Most fruits contain less than one gram of fat per serving with the exception of avocados that have a whopping 31 grams per fruit.

The USDA and National Institutes of Health suggest a minimum of five servings of fruits per day. A serving size, around 3 ounces for adults, is what fits into the palm of your hand. A serving could be one whole apple or orange; a couple of kiwi fruits; a handful of grapes or cherries; a tablespoonful of raisins; or 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice.

The color spectrum

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the 5 A Day Partnership developed a color spectrum to bolster education about and support for eating more fruits and vegetables. By putting something of every color on your plate or in your lunch bag, you are more likely to eat the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

Blues and purples, as in blueberries, black berries, and purple grapes add health-enhancing flavonoids, phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as Vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, and potassium. Deep Reds or Bright, such as grapefruit, watermelon, red apples, pomegranates, cranberries, strawberries, and guava add the antioxidant lycopene. Oranges like mangos and apricots contain beta-carotene, which is a natural antioxidant that is being studied for its role in enhancing the immune system. The orange group is also rich in Vitamin C and offers folate, a B vitamin. Reds and oranges help maintain a lower risk of some cancers and promote urinary tract health and memory functions.

Greens, such as honeydew melons, kiwis and avocados are rich in phytochemicals and assist with vision, as well as maintaining strong bones and teeth. Bright yellows, such as pineapples and lemons, have many of the same perks as the orange groups and are high in Vitamin C, manganese, and the natural enzyme, bromelain and carotenoids. They also help maintain good vision and a healthy heart, along with strengthening the immune system. Whites, including white peaches, dates, and pears help lower cholesterol and keep the heart healthy.

Keep it accessible

Perhaps five servings or more of fruit and vegetables seems like a lot, but there a host of very simple ways to add five servings of fruit into the daily diet. Add dried fruit to breakfast cereal; prepare fruit salads to last few days; eat an apple before leaving for work; drink more 100 percent fruit juices; or always have a bowl of fruit at hand.

Ming buys fruit over the weekend and divides it up in small zipped storage bags for the week. "I go to the market and buy some fruit that is ripe and some that is not yet ripe so it will last through the workweek... It's better than chips."

In addition to shopping at your local grocers, Queens has several open air markets including Flushing Farmers Market, Flushing Mall, 914 923-4837; Jackson Heights Greenmarket Travers Park, 212-477-3220; and Jamaica Farmers Market, Jamaica Avenue.

Reach contributing writer Annette R. Richmond by e-mail at feedback@timesledger.com.

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