June heralds the time to focus on fruits and vegetables in the kitchen. Summer produce offers a cornucopia of variety, color and flavor. And it's National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month. If these aren't reason enough to start getting creative with produce in the kitchen, fruits and vegetables are critical to good health.

A diet high in fruit and vegetables can help reduce the risk of chronic disease like stroke, diabetes and heart disease. According to the AICR, eating at least five servings for vegetables and fruit per day can reduce cancer risk by 20 percent and, combined with physical activity and weight management, raises that figure to 30 to 40 percent.

Scientists believe there are thousands of phytochemicals, with names like lycopene and lutein, and found only in plant foods, that are vital to our health. They help prevent or interrupt many different diseases and other health problems. Each plant food has its own unique array of phytochemicals that differ from those found in other foods.

The interaction between one plant food's phytochemicals and another's creates a powerful, synergistic effect, providing "more bang for the buck." Scientists, therefore, advise us to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits in order to maximize the health benefits we receive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends five or more servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Since a standard serving of vegetables or fruit is generally one-half cup, this goal is not difficult to achieve.

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Many nutrition experts advise choosing vegetables and fruits in deep colors -dark green, yellow, orange and red. Since different colors often indicate the presence of different phytochemicals, eating a rainbow of colors is a good way to bolster your health defenses.

The following recipe for gazpacho is quick to fix and full of healthful vegetables. It's a great way to celebrate June.

Ten-Minute Gazpacho

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups tomato juice, preferably reduced-sodium
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. bread crumbs
  • 1/2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup seeded and diced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
  • 1 plum tomato, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup zucchini, finely diced (optional)
  • 1 hard boiled egg white, finely chopped (optional)

Directions

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  1. In a blender, puree tomato juice, garlic and olive oil.
  2. Add bread crumbs and vinegar, and blend to combine.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into a covered container and chill well, from 2 hours to overnight.
  4. When ready to serve, adjust seasonings if necessary.
  5. Divide soup among 4 serving bowls. Add 1 Tbsp. each of diced cucumber, pepper, tomato and onion, plus zucchini and egg white if desired. (Or add diced vegetables to juice mixture before serving.)

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
70 calories
3 g. total fat
less than 1 g. saturated fat
10 g. carbohydrate
2 g. protein
1 g. dietary fiber
97 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Vegetable, 1/2 Fat