Celebrate the superfoods of summer

Say so long to out-of-season fruit and vegetables that have travelled far and wide! If you’re like me, you’ve got your area’s “what’s in season” calendar bookmarked. Summer makes it easy to get our recommended fill of foods that help prevent disease and keep our weight in check.

Here are some of the healthiest superfoods summer has to offer:

Apples. They’re as good for your waistline as your health. Sure, they’ve got disease-preventing antioxidants in the skin and flesh, but apples also contain plenty of pectin — a form of soluble fibre that helps keep you feeling fuller longer and prevents blood sugar spikes. In a recent study examining the heart healthy benefits of this fruit, participants who regularly enjoyed apples lost weight despite the extra calories in their diet.

Recipe ideas: Chopped Apple Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Crispy Chicken Fingers with Apple Fries.

Pears. How about a pear a day instead? Pears have more fibre per serving than apples and share many of the nutritional benefits. Pears contain a type of flavanoid called quercetin along with other antioxidants that fight inflammation and help prevent cell damage. As with most fruits, you’ll get the most benefits leaving the skins on.

Recipe ideas: Pear Quinoa Breakfast Bowl and Fig, Pear and Peanut Bruschetta.

Dark coloured berries. You can’t go wrong with any kind of berry or cherry, but some varieties such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and Saskatoon berries are available throughout the summer. Those vivid blues, deep reds and purples come from antioxidants — including the high concentration of anthocyanin found in blueberries and Saskatoon berries.

Each berry has its own combination of benefits, but you’ll find healthy doses of vitamins A, C, E and K and manganese. The natural sugars in the berries are offset by the soluble fibre, which helps delay the release of glucose into the blood stream. Some studies even suggest that blueberries can help fight fat.

Recipe ideas: Blueberry, Watermelon and Walnut Salad, Buckwheat Pancakes with Wild Blueberry Apple Compote and Robust Raspberry Almond Smoothie.

Watermelon. With 90 per cent water content, this sweet fruit is an undeniable thirst quencher but has nutritional benefits too. Not only will you get vitamins A, B1, B6 and C, watermelon gets its rosy hue from lycopene — an antioxidant some experts believe helps reduce the risk of certain cancers. Watermelon is higher in sugar and lower in fibre than other fruits, but still only has about 80-85 calories for a two-cup serving.

Recipe ideas: Grilled Spicy Watermelon and Watermelon Popsicles.

Tomatoes. Lycopene isn’t the only reason to enjoy this luscious red fruit. The beta-carotene in tomatoes can help protect the skin again sun damage — plus it’s known to be good for the eyes. Tomatoes also provide thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorus and copper to help boost health. Lycopene, calcium and vitamin K are also beneficial for bone health too. (For more details, see the 9 surprising healthy benefits of tomatoes.)

Recipe ideas: Tomatoes Greco and Canned Tomatoes.

Bell peppers. Summer’s bounty offers a price break on these popular veggies, not to mention some colours we don’t usually see such as purple, black and white. Each variety has its own mix of beneficial phytochemicals and nutrients including beta-carotene, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, molybdenum and manganese. In addition to lycopene, you’ll also find lutein and zeaxanthin — phytochemicals that help prevent eye disease such as macular degeneration. Mix up the colours to get a good selection of benefits, not to mention a pleasing presentation.

Recipe ideas: Mexican Stuffed Peppers and Stir Fry Peppers and Onions.

Leafy greens. They aren’t the prettiest produce at the market, but leafy greens such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, rapini and cabbage bring plenty of nutrition to the table. They’re packed with fibre, and their dark green goodness is a rich source of phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin (not to mention minerals including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium). Don’t forget their vitamin content too: in addition to vitamins C and E, leafy greens offer plenty of vitamin K — which helps fight inflammation and aids in regulating blood clotting.

Recipe ideas: Spinach Gnocchi, Curry Chicken and Rice Casserole with Swiss Chard and Baked Kale Chips.

Broccoli. With a growing season extending into fall, this cruciferous vegetable offers a 50-50 mix of soluble and insoluble fibre that’s good for our insides. It’s no surprise experts count broccoli among the family of must-have foods in our diet: it’s packed with vitamins A, C and K as well as antioxidants to fight inflammation. While it won’t measure up against a glass of milk, broccoli is also a good source of calcium for people who don’t consume dairy.

Recipe ideas: Broccoli with Garlic Butter and Cashews and Curry Broccoli Salad.

Beets. Some experts call them “red spinach” for a reason: like other fruits and veggies, beets’ rich colour indicates their antioxidant content. Beets are famous for their betalains — betanin and vulgaxanthin, specifically — which are antioxidants known to fight inflammation in the body. Beets are also high in folate and manganese, and some studies suggest they may have a detoxifying effect.

Beware if you like them hot: long cooking times can damage those sensitive betalains. Cook with caution, or try raw instead.

Recipe ideas: Crunchy Raw Beetroot Salad With Feta And Pear and Baked Seasoned Beet Crisps.

Eggplant. When aiming for lots of colour in your diet, don’t forget the purple end of the spectrum! Like other members of the nightshade family, eggplants are rich in antioxidant compounds. One of the most notable is nasunin — a phytonutrient shown to target disease-causing free radicals. Some studies also report it helps protect cell membranes from damage, making it easier for cells to push out waste. The eggplant’s mild taste and spongy texture make it the perfect compliment for other vegetables in dishes.

Recipe ideas: Ratatouille and Grilled Vegetable Napoleons.

Of course, you can’t go wrong enjoying a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. While these foods are some of experts’ top choices, it’s important to aim for balance and not load up on one or two foods.

To find out what’s in season near you, look for your area’s growing calendar or call your local orchard or farm.

Sources: About.com, Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association, TLC.com, WebMD, WHFoods.com

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