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Red Foods: The New Health Powerhouses?

From strawberries to beets, red fruits and vegetables pack a vibrant nutritional punch.
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WebMD Feature

We've all heard the cliche that an apple a day can keep the doctor away, but is the same true for a virtual cornucopia of red foods, including strawberries, cherries, raspberries, watermelon, tomatoes, and beets?

Absolutely, says Lona Sandon, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "There are many red fruits and vegetables to choose from and they each bring something a little bit different to the table," she tells WebMD.

Many red fruits and veggies are loaded with powerful, healthy antioxidants -- such as lycopene and anthocyanins -- that may do everything from fight heart disease and prostate cancer to decrease the risk for stroke and macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in people aged 60 and older). Antioxidants soak up damaging free radicals.

Read on for the skinny on some of the most popular red foods, along with ways to include more in your diet:

Red Food: Strawberries

In season: May and June, but available year-round

Benefits: "They are a good source of folate, which helps heart health and is helpful for women in their childbearing years," Sandon says. Folic acid is known to decrease the risk of certain birth defects called neural tube defects. "Strawberries are also a good source of the antioxidant powerhouse vitamin C," which boosts immune system function among other things, she says. Get more by: Sprinkling some strawberries on your cereal or blending up some frozen strawberries in a skim milk and frozen yogurt smoothie.

Red Food: Cherries

In season: June and July, but available year-round

Benefits: "Cherries are high in fiber because of their skin," says Felicia Busch, RD, a nutritionist in St. Paul, Minn., and author of The New Nutrition from Antioxidants to Zucchini. "They are also rich in vitamin C as well as potassium, which can help maintain a lower blood pressure."

Get more by:  Available year-round, "dried cherries are a great addition to trail mixes and cereals -- hot or cold," Busch says.

Red Food: Cranberries

In season: September to December, but available year-round

Benefits: "Cranberries have been shown to cause the death of cancer cells in lab studies," Sandon says. But that's not all these pint-sized, maroon-colored berries can do. "Cranberries also can stop bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls and may even prevent H pylori, the bacteria responsible for many stomach ulcers, from sticking to the stomach walls and causing ulcers," she says. The nutrients responsible for this anti-sticking mechanism are called proanthocyanidins. Cranberries are also rich in vitamin C.

Get more by: Pouring yourself a glass of cranberry juice, blending canned cranberries in smoothies or adding cranberries to poultry stuffing.

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