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Enjoy summer's bounty

Summer offers a perfect opportunity to enjoy a bounty of delicious, fresh fruits. Like other plant foods, fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidant compounds known as phytochemicals.

These health-promoting agents help protect plants from environmental hazards, including insects, fungi and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Although the human body isn't capable of producing many of the natural compounds found in plants, we can enjoy their protective benefits by consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.

Summer picnics and barbecues wouldn't be complete without a few slices of ice-cold watermelon. The juicy, red fruit is rich in citrulline, a compound that is converted to an amino acid known as arginine in the body.

Arginine offers a number of important cardiovascular benefits. Because it helps enhance blood flow and lower blood pressure, it has been used as a natural remedy in the treatment of hypertension, erectile dysfunction and peripheral vascular disease.

If you love the flavor of sweet, succulent pineapple, it's a great time to treat your taste buds. Pineapples are rich in bromelain, an enzyme with potent medicinal properties.

In laboratory studies, bromelain has been found to inhibit the growth and spread of cancerous cells in tissues of the breast, lung and skin. The enzyme's anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving actions make it an effective natural remedy for the treatment of arthritis and tissue damage caused by burns, muscle strains and surgical incisions.

Because of its ability to break down proteins, bromelain has long been used as a meat tenderizer and a natural digestive aid. Eating a few bites of pineapple at the beginning of your meals can reduce the likelihood that you'll experience troublesome gastrointestinal symptoms, such as indigestion, bloating and flatulence.

If you want to boost your brainpower this summer, eating more blueberries may be a step in the right direction. Natural compounds in the colorful fruit can help prevent -- and even reverse -- age-related memory decline.

Research indicates that phytochemicals in blueberries, known as anthocyanins, fight inflammatory and oxidative changes in the brain that contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Some experts speculate that these beneficial compounds may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.

Like blueberries, cherries are rich in anthocyanins and other natural compounds that help alleviate pain and swelling related to arthritis and gout. In animal studies, anthocyanins from cherries reduced painful inflammation significantly better than aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

For athletes and weekend warriors, cherries make an excellent post-exercise snack. Phytochemicals in the tart, tasty fruit help refuel tired muscles, reducing muscle soreness and weakness following strenuous workouts.

As long as you're shopping for fresh fruit, be sure to pick up some grapes. Red grapes are particularly rich in two beneficial phytochemicals: resveratrol and quercetin.

Resveratrol is well known for its ability to enhance cardiovascular health. The plant compound not only improves blood flow to the heart and brain, it helps prevent the formation of blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Quercetin offers powerful antiviral and antioxidant properties. In human studies, regular intake of this phytochemical was shown to boost the ability of the immune system to ward off viral respiratory infections, including colds and the flu.

For folks with allergies, quercetin may be a viable alternative to some over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs. The compound has impressive antihistamine actions, making it useful in the treatment of hay fever, eczema and hives.

For children with allergies and asthma, kiwi fruit is an excellent choice. Italian researchers found that children who regularly consumed kiwi and other citrus fruits experienced significantly less wheezing, shortness of breath and nighttime coughing compared with children who rarely ate these foods.

Every plant food offers a unique array of beneficial vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Adding a variety of fresh fruits to your daily diet is an easy, refreshing way to improve your health.

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