Summer is a wonderful time for foodies- long daylight hours give you time to cook out on the grill, the warm nights are ideal for lingering outside over dinner with friends, and most of all, there is a beautiful bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy! Plus, all of that delicious produce has some of the best nutrition. Read our list to learn about the top 10 healthiest summer foods!
Tomatoes’ bright color signals their high antioxidant content, including lycopene, a carotenoid pigment. Tomatoes are beneficial for cardiovascular, bone, eye, and cellular health. They are a good source of vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum, and other vitamins and minerals. They’re a summer staple, and are especially delicious in caprese salad, gazpacho, or just drizzled with olive oil, cracked pepper, and quality sea salt.
Blueberries are one of the best fruits you can include in your diet. They’re low in sugar, high in antioxidants, and have a low glycemic index. Blueberries are beneficial for eye health, and recent studies have shown that blueberries might benefit memory and slow down cognitive aging. They even support a healthy balance of gut bacteria! Eat them on unsweetened yogurt to get a one-two punch of prebiotics and probiotics.
3. Snap/String Beans
Green beans, and other fun-colored relatives like purple sting beans, wax beans, and ‘Dragon Tongue’ beans, provide fiber, vitamin A, folate, vitamin K, manganese, and smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals. These are young forms of legumes that later turn into beans that can be eaten in the mature form, and the young green pod form provides higher concentrations of many nutrients. Steaming is the best way to cook snap beans to preserve the majority of their nutrients.
Often found growing wild around the south, domesticated cultivars of blackberry yield larger, sweeter fruits. Blackberries’s beautiful dark color signifies the presence of antioxidants that benefit the brain, heart, and immune system. They also contain minerals that are good for your bones. Blackberries are delicious combined with other fruits from this list in a gluten-free summer crisp.
Okra is a quintessential southern vegetable, but there seem to be two camps when it comes to this pod veggie: love it or hate it. I must admit, I was in the latter group until I got better acquainted with okra through summer CSA shares. Of course, okra can be fried or cooked into gumbo, but there are lots of other healthy, non-slimy ways to prepare it. Many people proclaim okra as their favorite vegetable to pickle. One of my favorites is to grill okra until it has char marks, and serve it with a dressing or dipping sauce. You can also cook it in the wok or oven. Look to Cajun, Caribbean, or Indian recipes for inspiration. It’s worth including in your diet because of its vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, and mineral content. But the best feature of okra (well, the one that won me over to okra fandom at least) is its fiber content. Okra has a unique, mucilaginous fiber that helps balance blood sugar, lubricate the digestive tract, feed your friendly gut flora, and make my stomach feel awesome.
Cucumbers have vitamins and lignans, plus anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They help fight inflammation, freshen breath, and support a healthy weight. Cucumbers are delicious pickled, used in salads, spiralized into noodles, and especially refreshing infused in water with fresh mint.
Like the other brightly colored fruits on this list, plums are high in antioxidants and fiber. Despite their sweetness, plums can also help normalize blood sugar. While plums obviously would go well in fruity summer dishes, like cocktails or a plum tart, you can also try incorporating them in savory meals, like these shrimp-plum skewers.
Peaches are a source of antioxidant vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and vitamin A. However, be sure to buy organic peaches, as peaches’ soft, fuzzy skin tends to absorb more pesticides, and peaches are in the EWG‘s Dirty Dozen list. There are tons of ways to prepare peaches- peach salsa, peach ice cream or sorbet, peach salad with tomatoes and beets, or (my personal favorite), peaches on the grill. You could garnish your grilled peaches simply with torn basil leaves, serve them on yogurt or ice cream, or for a more impressive dish, make seared peaches and figs with a balsamic reduction.
Cherries are full of antioxidants like vitamin C, carotenoids, anthocyanins, and quercetin. Cherries and their juice are well known for their ability to reduce the risk of gout. They’re anti-inflammatory, so they can help reduce pain from conditions like arthritis. Cherries contain naturally-occurring melatonin, which is a hormone involved in sleep, so they can even help you get a good night’s rest.
10. Summer squashPhoto by Tim Sackton
Summer squashes, including yellow squash, zucchini, and pattypans, are all low-calorie and great sources of nutrients. Because of their high water content, summer squashes don’t have many calories, but they can fill you up with their volume, making them a great weight loss food. These squashes good sources of antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are good for eye health. Most of these nutrients are found in the colorful skin, so buy organic and wash the skins so you can eat them. There are also a couple varieties of genetically-modified squash on the market now, so buy organic if you want to avoid GMOs. Squashes also provide minerals, including copper, manganese, and magnesium, and vitamins, like vitamin C and B vitamins. The fiber and pectins found in summer squash help stabilize blood sugar, which can be good for appetite control and part of a diabetes management plan. Zucchini is great on the grill, sauteéd, spiralized into “zoodles,” in bread (or even brownies), or baked into tasty zucchini chips.