Health Department column: Reaping the benefits of healthier eating

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 8, 2015

By Amy H. Smith

Rowan County Health Department

As we “spring” into growing season with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables right around the corner, what easier time of year to aim to eat more fruits and vegetables! A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Eating a variety of produce is as important as the number of healthy servings that you eat each day, for there isn’t a single fruit and/or vegetable that provides all the nutrients that your body needs in order to stay heathy.

Numerous studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of having heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancers, lower the risk of digestive and eye problems, and have a positive effect on your blood sugar. Research also shows that a diet high in fruits and vegetables makes your skin more healthy, vibrant and well-toned.

Your daily goal should be to try to eat as many colors of fruits and vegetables as you can, knowing that each different fruit and vegetable contains the nutrients, minerals and/or the vitamins that your body needs on a daily basis. You will be amazed how much better you feel and look by incorporating this goal into your daily eating habits!

Below are 12 easy tips that can help you increase the number of fruits and vegetables you eat on a daily basis:

1) Start your day off right by eating breakfast and incorporating fruits or vegetables into your meal. Add vegetables to an omelet or to a smoothie. Top off a bowl of cereal or oatmeal with fresh fruit. Eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking a serving of juice, that way you are getting the nutrients you need along with the fiber. Or best yet, create a fruit smoothie with your favorite frozen or fresh fruits and a low-fat yogurt.

2) Set a personal goal of filling half your plate with vegetables and/or fruits at each and every meal.

3) Retrain your taste buds to love vegetables and fruits! There are many ways to prepare fruits and vegetables. If one way of preparing a certain food doesn’t appeal to you, then be creative and find a new way to prepare the dish. With summer around the corner, have you thought about grilling your fruits and vegetables? It’s easy, hardly any cleanup, and there are numerous recipes on the internet that will please your palate!


Visit your local farmers markets, local farms and/or local roadside stands for a huge variety and for the freshest/most delicious fruits and vegetables available. They are:

• Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market, 115 S. Jackson St., Salisbury, open Wednesday mornings 8 a.m.-noon, Wednesday evenings 4 p.m.-7 p.m., and Saturday mornings 8 a.m.-noon. Find more information at

• China Grove Farmers Market, 308 N. Main Street, China Grove, open 4 p.m.-7 p.m. every Friday May 1 through Oct. 2.

• Cleveland Farmers Market, 100 block of South Depot Street, Cleveland, open 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m. every Wednesday from May 13 through October.

5) Set a personal goal for you and/or your family to try a new fruit or vegetable each week, especially during the summer while there is a wide variety of produce available in Rowan County. Many of our local farmers can offer you suggestions on how to prepare the produce you may purchase from them.

6) Have a “Meatless Monday” by creating vegetable lasagna, a vegetable stir-fry, a veggie pizza, a meatless casserole, veggie subs, and/or have a healthy salad as your main dish. Below is a healthy, fast and tasty recipe from that you may want to try:

Black Bean Quesadillas


  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, preferably Pepper Jack
  • 1/2 cup prepared fresh salsa, divided (recipe below)
  • 4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced


  1. Combine beans, cheese and 1/4 cup salsa in a medium bowl. Place tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1/2 cup filling on half of each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half, pressing gently to flatten.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 quesadillas and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, two to four minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and quesadillas. Serve the quesadillas with avocado and the remaining salsa.

Fresh Tomato Salsa


  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup sliced green onion (with tops)
  • ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno chilies
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped


Mix all ingredients. Salsa may be served cold or at room temperature.

Makes: 3 ½ cups

Serves: 56; 2 calories per tablespoon


7) Make it easy! Have pre-cut fruits and vegetables at work to ward off your cravings and to help you avoid the empty-calorie, nutrient-lacking vending machine.

8) Want your children to eat more fruits and vegetables? Take them with you to the grocery  store and/or the farmers market and let them help pick out the produce! You will be amazed how willing your child will be to try something new if and when they are allowed to be involved in purchasing the ingredients and helping to prepare the dish or entrée.

9) If you cannot buy fresh fruit, always purchase canned fruit either in water/no sugar added, and/or in its own natural juices to reduce the number of calories you are consuming. Frozen fruit is also a great alternative.

10) Offer “Fruit Fridays” at work where a bowl of fresh fruit is available to everyone as they come and go.

11) Infuse your water with fresh fruits, vegetables, and/or herbs to stay hydrated and to reduce your caloric intake. Some of the following fruits, vegetables and/or herbs can be used to create mouth-watering flavors: strawberries; raspberries; blueberries; cherries; grapes; pears; pomegranates; mangos; pineapple; bananas; apples; nectarines; plums; kiwi; starfruit; cantaloupe; watermelon; cucumbers; carrots; celery; peppers (hot or sweet); mint; basil; sage; cilantro; rosemary; and/or thyme. Recipes can easily be found by searching “simply infused waters /how to make them.”

12) Be adventurous and make homemade salsa! Homemade salsa is fresher and is known to require less salt than store-brand salsas. There are a variety of recipes and flavors to choose from depending on what ingredients you choose and whether you choose to use vegetables, fruits, or a combination of both. No matter what you decide, the health benefits and nutrients from eating fresh salsa are numerous. Research has shown that the ingredients found in salsa help to protect your tissues, cells and eyes; it helps boost your immune system and protects against some cancers; it helps improve your skin; it increases your antioxidants and may lower your cholesterol level; as well as help prevent high blood pressure.

In Rowan County, we are so blessed to be surrounded by so many farms and fresh produce. If I may, let me suggest that you plan a trip to one of our local farmers markets, farms, and/or roadside stands in the near future. Not only will you reap the rewards of eating healthier, but you may find yourself a little less stressed, much more energized, and a little more excited about what’s for dinner.

Wishing you and yours a healthy and safe summer! If you should have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 704-216-8859 or at


Smith is health education specialist/wellness coordinator for the Rowan County Health Department.