The best produce season of the year is upon is, and I don’t know about you guys but I’m gonna make the most of it while the fresh, local, in-season summer produce is at its best. Is there anything better than a warm, juicy peach straight from the farmer’s market? Or that impossibly sweet summer corn? I think not.
Summer produce is not only delicious, but it’s also hella nutritious. And since it’s the one time of year that we’re typically buying things that are fresh, in season, and local, we really reap the full benefits of what we’re eating. I’ve put together a guide of some of my favourite summer fruits and veggies so you can get the low down on what this glorious season has on offer.
Carrots contain good amounts of antioxidant nutrients, including antioxidants like vitamin C, as well as phytonutrient antioxidants such as beta-carotene. Red and purple carrots are rich in anthocyanin, and in yellow carrots, about half of the total carotenoids come from lutein. The antioxidant nutrients in carrots are believed to provide cardioprotective benefits – that is, they’re good for your heart! But there’s more to the health benefits of carrots than that: studies have demonstrated the ability of carrot extracts to inhibit the grown of colon cancer cells. Carrots are also an excellent source of vitamin A, biotin, vitamin K, dietary fiber, molybdenum, potassium, and vitamin B6, and vitamin C.
Corn! I love corn for the digestive lesson it gives us – what goes in must come out – those tough little cellulose casings can’t be broken down by our digestive acids. So chew your food! Recent research has shown that the fiberous portion of corn can support the growth of friendly bacteria in our large intestine and can also be transformed by these bacteria into short-chain fatty acids, which can supply energy to our intestinal cells and help lower our risk of colon cancer. The fiber-to-protein combination in corn is helpful for stabilizing blood sugar as it moderates the passage of food through the digestive tract. Different colours of corn (yellow, blue, red, etc) yield different phytonutrients, but the most common varietal of yellow corn is rich in carotenoids. The overall antioxidant protection of corn is linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Let’s also note that corn is a good source of niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate and vitamins B-6, E and K, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium.
Cucumbers are loaded with phytonutrients (cucurbitacins, lignans, and flavonoids) that provide us with valuable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits. Cucumbers are an excellent source of vitamin K. They are also a good source of copper, potassium, manganese, vitamin C, phosphorus, magnesium, biotin, and vitamin B1. And cucumbers contain the mineral silica, which is important for nail and hair health. And really, what’s more refreshing than a cold cucumber on a hot summer day?
Peaches are native to China, spread to the rest of the world along the Silk Road. Thanks, China! Peaches are in the rose family along with nectarines, plums, and almonds. Fresh peaches are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber, especially if you consume the fuzzy skin. They contain a moderate amount of the antioxidant vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta carotene. There is some evidence that eating fruits rich in vitamin A may be protective against some cancers. Peaches also contain flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants which are protective against free radicals and reactive oxygen species.
Peas are low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and are a great source of plant-based protein, manganese, folate, vitamin B1, potassium, and phosphorous. The high fiber content in dried peas is thought to be helpful in lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Plus all that protein (1 cup of peas contains around 10 grams of protein) and a good selection of vitamins and minerals? Pass the peas!
Potato, poh-tah-toe! However you say it, potatoes are a great source of vitamin B6, which does all kinds of important things, like building new cells in your body. B6 is also needed for the creation of amines, like serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine that help to regulate mood, sleep, and stress, respectively. Diets rich in vitamin B6 are attributed to lower rates of heart disease. Also, B6 is vital for the breakdown of gylcogen – the form in which sugar is stored in our body – into usable energy. Potatoes are also a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorous, niacin, and dietary fiber. But! Most of the fiber content is in the skin of the potato, so leave the skin on for all of the important benefits of ingesting fiber.
Popeye was totally on to something because spinach is amazing for your body! Spinach is a rich source of anti-inflammatory flavonoids and carotenoids. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids including ALA. A rich source of dietary fiber, spinach can help to fill you up and moderate blood sugar. Spinach is also an excellent source vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, and calcium (good for your bones), folate, potassium, and vitamin B6 (good for your heart), iron, vitamin B2, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Summer berries are an excellent source of antioxidant and anti inflammatory nutrients. Strawberries are a great source of lycopene vitamin C and manganese. Blueberries are rich in anthocyanin antioxidants which also provide their deep blue colour. Raspberries are also an antioxidant bomb containing anthocyanin, reversatrol (the same heart healthy antioxidant that is found in red wine) and metabolism boosting raspberry ketones. Blackberries are also loaded with antioxidant vitamin E, plus vitamin C and the cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber pectin. All berries are relatively low in sugar compared to most fruits, high in dietary fiber, and are a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals. Get down with berries this summer!
Tomatoes are known for their antioxidant content, notably lycopene – good for your prostates, fellas! Eating tomatoes can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Other antioxidants include vitamin C, and beta carotene. As far as phytonutrients go, tomatoes are top of the charts. They contain flavonoids, carotenoids, and glycosides to name just a few. Eating tomatoes has been shown to be beneficial for the profile of fats in our bloodstream. Specifically, tomato intake has been linked to reduced total cholesterol, reduced LDL cholesterol, and reduced triglyceride levels. This makes our hearts happy! Tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin K, copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus.
Zucchini is a starchy summer squash that not only provides a good amount of dietary fiber (2.5 grams per cup), but it also provides polysaccharide fibers like pectin that have special benefits for blood sugar regulation. Zucchini is a very strong source of key antioxidant nutrients, including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Since the skin of this food is particularly antioxidant-rich, it’s worth leaving the skin intact. The fat in zucchini’s edible seeds includes omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid), making it a heart healthy choice. Zucchini is a very good source of vitamin C, magnesium, dietary fiber, phosphorus, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin K. Additionally, it has a notable amount of vitamin B1, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and protein.