Alexander the Great fell in love with this surprisingly sweet fruit in Asia, where he found them growing wild. When he returned to Europe from his military expeditions, he brought some with him. The ancient Romans gave the apricot its name - from the Latin word for "precocious" - because the apricot is the first fruit of the season to ripen. The name stuck, and the apricot spread all over, from Europe, to America, and all the way to Australia. The apricot is a fantastic fruit - loaded with beta carotene, iron, fiber, vitamin C, and several B vitamins. If you dry an apricot, its nutrients get more concentrated, making dried apricots a great snack. Whether fresh or dried, eating apricots will help you fight the effects of aging, protect your eyesight, ward off cancer, and prevent heart disease. 4 ways apricots keep you healthy Combats cancer. If you get indigestion from eating tomato products - the prime source of lycopene - here's great news for you. Apricots, especially dried ones, are another source of lycopene, the amazing carotenoid that can help prevent prostate, breast, and several other cancers. Though apricots aren't nearly as good a source of lycopene - about 30 dried ones have the same amount as one tomato - munching on them throughout the day can boost your lycopene quicker than you think. Apricots are also a good source of the most famous carotenoid of them all - beta carotene. This powerful antioxidant reduces your risk of some types of stomach and intestinal cancers. To get these benefits, experts suggest getting at least 5 milligrams of beta carotene each day. That's equal to about six fresh apricots. Halts heart disease. Eating dried apricots as a snack can punch up your levels of iron, potassium, beta carotene, magnesium, and copper. These important nutrients help control your blood pressure and prevent heart disease. Plus, as few as five dried apricots can give you up to 3 grams of fiber, which sweeps cholesterol out of your system before it has a chance to clog your arteries. Chases away cataracts. What you eat can affect your vision. Dr. Robert G. Cumming, the lead researcher for the Blue Mountains Eye Study, says, "Our study confirms the importance of vitamin A for cataract prevention." Cumming adds, "Our overall conclusion is that a well-balanced diet is needed for eye health." Since apricots are a good source of beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, and several other nutrients, they could be just what you're looking for. Adds to a long life. Believe it or not, some people claim apricots are the secret to living to age 120. They get this idea from the Hunzas, a tribe living in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. Common health problems, like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, do not exist in Hunza. And researchers are wondering if apricots, a main part of their diet, are partly responsible. The Hunzas eat fresh apricots in season and dry the rest to eat during their long, cold winter. Although eating apricots can't guarantee you'll live a long life, recent research suggests the little fruit may help you live a better life. The B vitamins in dried apricots may protect you from Alzheimer's and age-related mental problems, like memory loss. Pantry pointers From June to August, the finest fresh apricots roll into your supermarket from California and Washington state. Keep your eyes peeled for the tastiest of the bunch. They'll wear a beautiful, bright orange skin, and they'll look and feel plump. Avoid apricots with yellowish or greenish tinges and those that are hard, shrunken, or bruised. Just like their cousin the peach, apricots can ripen on your kitchen counter at room temperature. When they feel and smell ripe, wrap them in a paper bag and store them in your refrigerator. They'll stay fresh for several days. During the winter months, satisfy your apricot craving with fruits imported from South America, or enjoy canned apricots, jams, spreads, and nectars.