Sometimes eating healthy can feel like an uphill battle. First you have to find time to shop, then pick the “right” foods – which seem to change every day – and now those foods have to be in season? Really!?
Well, eating seasonally isn’t something made up to cause you more anxiety. Eating seasonally ensures that you get foods when they have the most nutrients. The flavors are richer, the colors are brighter – which means more antioxidants – and the whole eating experience is much better. Anyone who’s bitten into an off-season, mealy watermelon knows this to be true.
And it’s not as hard as it might seem. Seasonal foods are naturally going to be more abundant in grocery stores and at farmers’ markets – so you wont have to look too hard to find them. And we’re going to tell you exactly what they are, why they’re good for you, and a few ways you can easily incorporate them into your routine.
Here are our top picks for the best summer foods:
Although you need a pit strategy, cherries are definitely worth the extra effort. In addition to satisfying your sweet tooth, cherries act as a natural painkiller. Like traditional NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.)cherry juice contains flavonoid compounds that inhibit the action of enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2) that cause pain. But unlike NSAIDs, which can damage the lining of the stomach when taken too often, the flavonoids and the high level of antioxidants in cherries actually help protect the stomach.
Cherries may also help you sleep. Tart cherries are one of the only foods that contain melatonin – the hormone that helps get us to sleep and stay asleep. One small study found drinking tart cherry juice improved sleep duration and quality in adults suffering with insomnia. Additionally, unlike most other fruits, cherries are higher in glucose than fructose. Glucose is our brain’s preferred source of fuel, so popping a few cherries before bed will also help keep our blood sugar from crashing and our brain happy all night long.
Recipe tip: blend cherries, water, a little stevia and lime juice in a blender. Pour into ice molds and freeze for an after dinner treat that will help you catch some z’s.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene – the phytochemical that makes them red and has significant antioxidant properties. Unlike some other vegetables that loose their nutritional value when cooked, tomatoes get more nutritious! Research from Cornell University showed that cooking tomatoes actually increases their levels of phytochemicals, although it reduces their vitamin C content. But that’s okay. You’ve got all the other foods on this list to make up the difference.
Recipe tip: The research found cooking tomatoes at about 190 degrees (medium heat) for 30 minutes produced the most increase in antioxidants. We recommend simply sautéing with olive oil and a few leaves of fresh basil, and pairing with your noodle (zucchini, rice, gluten-free, gluten-full) of choice.
- SUMMER SQUASH
This one is kind of obvious. Summer is in the name. But this catchall is actually applied to many varieties. Yellow, zucchini, and patty pan are all summer squashes. Unlike winter squashes (hubbard, acorn and butternut) summer squashes are much quicker to prepare. You can even eat them raw, skin and all. One cup has a whopping 35% of your RDV of vitamin C and 14% of your B6. Squash is also a great source of manganese, a mineral that’s needed to make collagen in our skin and protect us from ultraviolet (UV) light damage – particularly handy in the summertime. Yet another reason why it’s important to eat in season!
Recipe tip: Since heat degrades vitamin C (and eating steaming hot vegetables in the summer isn’t all that appetizing anyway) try slicing up some squash and eating with your favorite dips for a slightly healthier happy hour snack.
- BLACK BERRIES
When it comes to berries, blueberries and strawberries seem to get all the love, but this summer black is the new black. In addition to having some of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits, one cup of blackberries has a huge amount of fiber – 31% of your RDV. By helping you eliminate waste, blackberries aid your body in detoxification and hormonal regulation. Blackberries also contain 50% of your RDV of vitamin C and 36% of your vitamin K, which helps blood clotting and can help regulate menstruation. More good news for the ladies: Eating blackberries may help tighten tissue, meaning younger, firmer looking skin!
Recipe tip: swap your blueberries for blackberries in your morning smoothie or over top of Greek yogurt or overnight oats.
Perhaps more than any other food on this list I LOVE BEETS! They’re packed with nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and one cup has 37% your RDV of folate, which our bodies need to make new cells. It’s especially important for pregnant women, as it has been shown to help prevent serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. The beetroot also contains betain, which helps protect the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol and helps our bodies flush out toxins by stimulating bile flow. On top of all that, beets might just take your workout to the next level. Researchers found beet juice allows muscles to use oxygen more efficiently, so much so that it has been recommended as an alternative to performance-enhancing drugs!
What makes beets even better is that they’re a nutritional BOGO – the greens are just as nutrient-dense as the roots, containing protein, phosphorus, zinc, fiber, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, in addition to significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. In fact, beet greens have even more iron than spinach! So definitely don’t toss these!
Recipe tip: Wash and dry your greens and use them in a salad along with the root. Top with a little feta cheese, a sprinkle of pine nuts and a drizzle of EVOO and balsamic vinegar.
- GREEN BEANS
As the old saying goes, “beans, beans, they’re good for your heart,” and that they are. Green beans contain levels of carotenoids similar to those in carrots and tomatoes. These pigments are what gives the vegetables their color and are thought to decrease risk of heart disease, certain cancers and eye disease. The reason why green beans aren’t called red or orange beans is because they also contain chlorophyll, which has been said to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties.
Green beans also contain resistant starch. This kind of starch passes through the stomach and small intestine undigested (it’s resistant) and winds up in the colon where it acts like soluble fiber, feeding our good gut bacteria. This helps with everything from regularity to weight loss to improving immunity.
Lastly, eating green beans is not only seasonal but sustainable. More than 50% of all commercially grown green beans are “Boooooorn in the USA!” So get out your jorts, turn on some Bruce and bust out the beans.
Recipe tip: If you can’t get them fresh, go for frozen. When beans are first frozen (rather than canned) they can retain up to 90% of their B vitamins.
When it comes to crave-able foods you dream about, cucumbers might not be top of the list. But these veggies are anything but boring. Although their taste may be inconspicuous, their vitamin content is not. Cucumbers are packed with B vitamins and are 95% water which means they’re hydrating and energizing. So instead of making a b-line for the coffee maker in the afternoon, try some cuckes.
Or perhaps you have a little too much fun one of these summer nights… Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish many essential nutrients, and their water content helps flush toxins, taking your hangover from a 10 to a 6.
Recipe idea: Head off the “morning after” headache sooner rather than later. Try adding some cucumbers to your cocktails with this great recipe from The Minimalist Baker.
Muddle mint, lime juice, gin and sugar (or stevia) in a shaker. Add cucumber slices and shake. Pour mixture over ice and top with tonic or sparkling water. Bottoms up!
There is quite possibly nothing better than that first bite of summer corn on the cob, fresh off the grill, slathered in butter. But corn has gotten a pretty bad rap as of late: it’s GMO; it’s hard to digest, and it has no nutritional value. But it tastes so good! Can it really be all that bad?
In terms of vitamin content, many other veggies have corn beat. Corn is mostly starch, which in the anti-carb mania, has become a nutritional public enemy, but our bodies need starch and other sources of carbohydrate for our thyroids to function properly. If we don’t get enough carbs, our thyroids can slow down and actually cause us to gain weight! Additionally, corn is a good source of insoluble fiber. It passes through your system undigested, sweeping the sides of your colon like a broom. If you’ve got digestive issues you might want to stay away from corn and other vegetables high in insoluble fiber like raw broccoli, cauliflower and kale. But people with healthy digestive systems do just fine with a little insoluble fiber.
As for all corn being GMO, that’s not really the case. Most sweet corn available in your grocery store’s produce section is not GMO corn. Field corn, which is harvested later and processed into oil, high-fructose corn syrup or other products, is more likely to be GMO. But you can avoid this by buying organic or from your local farmers’ market.
Recipe tip: Grill + butter + sea salt = enjoy.
These little fruits are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin C and are a good source of soluble fiber, yet their standout characteristic is that they’re an excellent source of potassium. This mineral is an electrolyte that helps you stay hydrated. If you suffer from headaches, it could be because you’re getting too much sodium and not enough potassium, so try popping a couple of apricots and see if it helps. Additionally, when paired with protein, they make a great post-workout snack. The potassium will help you rehydrate, while the natural sugar in the fruit helps shuttle protein to your muscles for better repair and recovery.
Recipe idea: If you’ve been having fun outside in the sun all day long, refuel with this in-season smoothie:
- One scoop of your favorite protein powder
- 1-2 apricots
- 1 whole banana
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach (or other leafy green)
- 1/2 cup water
When you get a good piece of melon, the super sweet taste and crisp texture puts any high fructose popsicle to shame. But more than satisfy your sweet tooth, all melons are a great source of vitamin C – which can help you fight that summer cold that always comes at the most inopportune moment. Additionally, watermelon, like tomatoes, is also a great source of lycopene.
But there’s nothing worse than cracking into a bad melon. Here’s how to make sure you’ve got a good one:
Ripe cantaloupes will smell slightly sweet. If it’s sickeningly sweet it’s probably overripe and yuck. Cantaloupes continue to ripen after being picked, so you want to buy and eat these bad boys.
As you probably know, picking a watermelon can be trickier, but when you get a good one, it’s better than birthday cake. The best sign of ripeness is a firm underside with a yellowish color. If it’s white or green, the melon isn’t ready yet. A whole watermelon will keep in the refrigerator up to a week, but a cut watermelon should be eaten ASAP.
You can tell a ripe honeydew by a yellowish-white color. Avoid those that are paper-white or greenish white; they’ll never ripen. If the skin is smooth, it’s under ripe. The skin should have a slightly sticky feel, indicating the natural sugars are seeping through. Cut it within four to five days and leave the seeds in place until you’re ready to eat it – they’ll keep the fruit moist.
Recipe tip: For a quick, refreshing drink that looks as gorgeous as it tastes, use melon in place of ice cubes. Just ball up your favorite kinds of melon, add sparkling water or soda water, a squeeze of lime juice, and a mint leaf to garnish.
(J West / Nutrition Group / 06 Aug. 15)