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Healthy Recipes for Spring's Freshest Ingredients

You already know eating fruits and veggies will help you stay healthy, but choosing the freshest seasonal foods in your area will keep things inexpensive and eco-friendly. Seasonal eating is a cinch in the spring, when farms across the country showcase produce that can make any locavore proud. Pick out a few of the following foods the next time you hit the farmers' market -- your waistline (and your wallet) will thank you.

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Come spring, asparagus are front and center in the produce section. These lovely green stalks are packed with folate (great for expectant moms), high in vitamins A and C, and rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants. Be sure to make use of these spears as soon as you see them -- asparagus tend to lose flavor once they are harvested, so finding them at the market and cooking them up that night guarantees the best taste possible.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 27 calories, 0g fat, 5g carbohydrates, 3g fat, 3g protein

MAKE IT: Asparagus Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

MAKE IT: Roasted Asparagus with Herbs and Capers

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Beat cancer and heart disease with this phytochemical-rich vegetable. But don't forget about the leafy greens attached to those bulbous bottoms. When steamed or sauteed (just like spinach or Swiss chard), beet greens yield tons of vitamins and nutrients.

Nutritional information
1 cup beets: 58 calories, 0g fat, 13g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 2g protein
1 cup beet greens: 8 calories, 0g fat, 2g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Beets with Blue Cheese and Candied Walnuts

MAKE IT: Mixed Greens with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese

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Calling all Californians: You lucky ducks can snag these juicy gems locally. The rest of us will find them plucked from West Coast trees and shipped during the spring months. So why should you opt for the tangerine rather than other, better-known citrus offerings? Their flesh is darker than most, meaning more beta-carotene is naturally present in the fruit. Plus, snacking on these can help strengthen your vision, boost your immune function, and lower your risk of heart disease. And the bonus? The delicious, tangy-sweet flavor!

Nutritional information
1 medium tangerine: 47 calories, 0g fat, 12g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Papaya and Tangerine Sorbet

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The list of health benefits you reap from strawberries is lengthy (they are a great source of potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, to start), but here's some important food for thought: Strawberries are often grown with the use of strong pesticides, so it's best to purchase the organic variety (look for the USDA seal on packaging). Or buy them from a local farmer -- small farms are more likely to use less-invasive farming techniques.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 46 calories, 0g fat, 11g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Mesclun Strawberry Salad

MAKE IT: Oatmeal-Berry Pancakes

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While it's very common to consume spinach from a frozen package or from a can, spring puts fresh spinach center stage -- and for good nutritional reasons. The quicker the vegetable is eaten after being harvested, the more the nutrients are retained. So, for a Popeye-sized helping of vitamins K (which helps keep blood healthy), C (which strengthen immune function), and A (which keeps vision sharp), toss a few bunches of fresh spinach into your basket.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 7 calories, 0g fat, 1g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Seared Scallop and Spinach Salad

MAKE IT: Spinach Ricotta Frittata with Tossed Green Salad

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Studies show that eating large amounts of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may help stave off age-related decline in memory. Go for bunches that have firm stalks and green florets (the richer the hue, the more concentrated the nutrients).

Nutritional information
1 cup: 31 calories, 0g fat, 6g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 3g protein

MAKE IT: Marinated Broccoli

MAKE IT: Rotisserie Chicken with Roasted Broccoli and Potatoes

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Put down the vegetable peeler when cleaning off your carrots, as these beta-carotene-rich beauties hold tons of nutrients in or just below that outer layer. Simply scrub the dirt off and enjoy. Little known fact: The baby carrots found in stores don't hold as much nutritional value as larger carrots because the skin is removed during processing. In this case, bigger IS better.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 52 calories, 0g fat, 12g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Wheat Germ Carrot Muffins

MAKE IT: Roasted Salmon with Carrots, Molasses, and Chili

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We often think of lettuce as simply the base layer for better ingredients in our salads, but romaine, arugula, Bibb, and many more varieties of spring lettuce all pack a serious nutritional punch. To best clean your bunches, swish the leaves in a large bowl of cool water, and let them sit so the grit settles to the bottom. Lift out the leaves and repeat until no dirt remains. Spin to dry.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 5 calories, 0g fat, 1g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 0g protein

MAKE IT: Arugula-Fennel Salad with Pear Vinaigrette

MAKE IT: Tangy Bean Salad Wraps

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If you're feeling sluggish, piling up on peas (either Sugar Snap, with the rounded pod, or Snow, with the flat pod) might help give you a boost. Peas provide nutrients like iron, whose deficiency results in fatigue, and vitamin B, which is necessary for metabolic function. Don't be deterred by the name "Sugar Snap" -- the naturally occurring kiss of sugar in these pods is a far cry from the calorie-rich cane sugar or corn syrup found on many ingredient lists.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 41 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 3g protein

MAKE IT: Brown Rice Salad with Snow Peas, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Artichoke Hearts

MAKE IT: Asian Chopped Salad

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Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard's thick, crunchy stalk and hardy, wide leaves have a taste that is "half spinach, half beet" says Sarah Krieger, RD and National Spokesperson for the ADA. Chard is chock-full of vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, which can relax muscles and boost levels of mood-lifting serotonin in the body. Plus, it's a great source of iron for vegetarians who may not be getting enough without eating meat, says Krieger.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 7 calories, 0g fat, 1g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: For a light pasta dish, toss linguine with lemon, garlic, olive oil, and cooked Swiss chard.

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In a study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture, raspberries ranked as one of the richest sources of antioxidants. But "they're very delicate," says Krieger, and lose their nutritional richness with every day they are off the vine. If you purchase raspberries at the grocery store, ask a salesperson when the shipment was delivered, and how far it had to travel.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 64 calories, 1g fat, 15g carbohydrates, 8g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Tangy Citrus Lemonade

MAKE IT: Grilled Chicken and Baby Spinach Salad with Fresh Raspberry Vinaigrette

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Fava Beans

The fava is filled with fiber -- a half cup yields 9 to 10 grams of the 25 grams of fiber that we need daily. The only downside to this dietary dynamo? They're slightly labor-intensive, as you must shuck them from the pod, remove their waxy coating, before cooking.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 111 calories, 1g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 10g protein

MAKE IT: Instead of hummus, spread this puree onto crackers and veggies. Remove beans from pod and peel off outer coating. Cook shelled beans in water until tender. Puree beans with olive oil, garlic and a dash of cumin.

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Often relegated to a garnish, the radish rightfully deserves its place on your plate. This little root is low in calories and a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. When shopping for radishes, take note of the size of the bulbs. If they're too big, they might be cracked or have a hollow center. Their leaves should look crisp and green, not yellow.

Nutritional Information
1 cup: 19 calories, 0g fat, 4g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Tuna Salad Nicoise

MAKE IT: Spicy Steak and Ranch Salad

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Fresh artichokes look intimidating, especially when it is so easy to buy the jarred, marinated variety. But packaged artichokes are usually soaking in oil and may have added sodium or other unhealthy jar-mates. Go for the fresh choke and you'll avoid additives and get right to the antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals this veggie has to offer.

Nutritional information
1 medium artichoke: 60 calories, 0g fat, 13g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 4g protein

Originally published on, April 2009

MAKE IT: Warm Tarragon Potato Salad

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