by Jennifer Flemming, MS, RD and Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD
Just as each season brings new weather, it also treats our taste buds to fresh, delicious, new produce. Fruits and vegetables taste better when bought in season, reducing the amount of steps from farm to table; they are generally less expensive; and in plentiful supply on produce stands, local farmers' markets as well as your neighborhood grocery. Now that summer is in full swing, take advantage of fresh, seasonal produce when it's at its most delicious and nutritious and fill your diet with low-calorie, antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Aside from being tastier and less expensive, seasonal fruits and vegetables contain the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are necessary for good health. The American Heart Association recommends that the average adult eat 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables every day to maintain a healthy weight and control blood pressure.
The fruits and vegetables most likely to dominate your local produce stands and farmers' markets include:
- Strawberries: Strawberries are among the first berries that are available as the warm weather arrives. Other berries, such as blueberries, appear later as summer rolls on. Eating three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries each week may help women reduce their risk for heart attack by as much as 32%, according to a study published in an American Heart Association journal.
- Asparagus: Asparagus is best when it's fresh and in season. It's packed with folate, an essential B vitamin, and experts have suggested that folate may play a role in heart health and in helping the body make new health cells.
- Peaches: Perfectly ripe peaches are a classic sign of summer and a staple in warm-weather recipes for dessert and salads. Packed with vitamins A and C, they are a must for summer.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are delicious at their peak and can be eaten just like an apple. They boast high levels of vitamins A and C as well as potassium and when they are in season and locally grown, they are very affordable.
Other fruits and vegetables to consider when shopping for fresh seasonal produce include apricots, cherries, plums, many varieties of melons, rhubarb, all types of peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach and other greens, eggplant, green beans, and corn on the cob.
Many fruits and vegetables don't even need to be cooked. Sugar snap peas and sweet peas make great snacks by themselves or, you can enjoy your raw vegetables with a Greek yogurt dip and chives. Fresh fruit can be dessert and even tossed in a salad (this adds more flavor to your salads so you won't need as much dressing).
When you do want to cook seasonal fruits and vegetables, try these healthy techniques:
- Grill: Grilling fruits and vegetables are tasty right off the grill and (if there is any left) they are also great cold the next day. For some added flavor try drizzling vegetables, such as Portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers, and asparagus, with olive oil and seasoning them with your favorite herbs and spices.
- Roast: Roasting is easy and brings out the flavor of vegetables.
- Steam: Steaming broccoli, asparagus, or other vegetables gives you all the nutrients and taste of fresh veggies without adding a single extra calorie.
Get inspired and start cooking up these healthy summer recipes and enjoy the most delicious dishes of summer!
Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Peach Dressing
Grilled Corn, Poblano, and Black Bean Salad
Asparagus Summer Salad