Yes, Mom was right. She told you to eat your fruits and vegetables. She may not have known the full details of what modern nutrition science says about fruits and vegetables, but she was definitely on the right track.

Everything from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to obesity can be improved or delayed by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Yet, according to surveys done by the American Dietetic Association, only about 14 percent of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables, which is at least five servings (or four-and-a-half to five cups) a day.

As we enter National Nutrition Month in March, a new program from the Finney County Extension Office will teach you tasty, new ways to enjoy those healthful fruits and vegetables in salads that your family will love. The program "Healthy Salads" will be held at noon Monday at the Finney County Extension Office, 501 S. Ninth St. Guest speaker Belinda Oldham, Wichita County Extension agent, will give suggestions for combining delicious salad ingredients as well as how to choose wisely at the salad bar.

Oldham says salads don't have to be limited to iceberg lettuce anymore. Choices for salad greens, dressings, vegetable or fruit salads, hot or cold salads, main dish salads and side salads are unlimited!

The program will include a potluck salad lunch. You may choose to prepare a recipe from our "Healthy Salads" recipe collection, or bring your favorite salad, along with the recipe, to share. Those whose work situations make it impossible to bring a salad may pay $3 for the meal. Please pre-register by Friday at 272-3670 to ensure adequate meal and program supplies.

Why Mom was right about fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are filled with all the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy body, plus they contain thousands of phytochemicals that offer even more health benefits. Some of those phytochemicals are found in the pigment of the fruit or vegetable, so eating a variety of colors will help you get an even bigger variety of health benefits.

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins. The B vitamins are necessary for normal function of the brain and nervous system and may help keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Vitamin C keeps your immune system working and keeps your skin and connective tissue strong. Vitamins A and E are antioxidants which protect cells from damage and are important for normal vision. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and strong bones.

Fruits and vegetables also contain many of the minerals you need, including calcium and iron that are found in dark green, leafy vegetables. Calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth and iron helps transport oxygen to body cells. The magnesium and potassium in fruits and vegetables helps regulate blood pressure and keep muscles working.

Fruits and vegetables also supply dietary fiber, which is often deficient in a typical western diet. You need high-fiber foods to keep your digestive system working normally and to help regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Eating high-fiber foods also helps keep you feeling full, which is good for losing or maintaining weight.

Science shows eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables correlates with a healthier heart, lower risk of cancer, better brain function and a longer life. But results are much less impressive when researchers look at individual vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals taken as dietary supplements. So, don't rely on pills to give you the nutrients you should get from fruits and vegetables on your plate!

Join us on Monday for the noon-hour program on "Healthy Salads" and gain some new inspiration to eat more fruits and vegetables. Your Mom will be so happy!

For more information on healthy eating during National Nutrition Month, see my blog at SWKTalk.com/livingwell.