There are many reasons to love summer. Warm weather, longer days, swimming and barbecues are on my list.
So, too, is summer’s abundance of fruits and vegetables – berries, watermelon, peaches, sweet cherries, field bell peppers, crispy lettuce, summer squash and more.
You can’t beat the in-season locally grown produce when it comes to nutrient content and flavour. Plus, choosing locally grown fruits and vegetables over their imported counterparts helps save on your food bill.
The following foods deserve a place on your summer menu. This list is far from inclusive; enjoy a wide variety of summer fruits and vegetables over the next few months.
Closely related to currants, gooseberries are available late June through August. Their colors vary from light green to yellow to dark purple and their flavors range from sweet to tart.
Nutritionally speaking, gooseberries have a lot to offer. One cup of these small berries delivers 6.5 g of fiber and 42 mg of vitamin C, one-half of a day’s worth of the antioxidant nutrients. Not bad for only 66 calories.
Gooseberries also serve up blood-pressure-regulating potassium along with calcium, B vitamins and a decent amount of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals called flavonoids.
Add fresh gooseberries to fruit salads, green salads, yogurt parfaits and overnight oats. Bake them into summer fruit pies and muffins or use them to make chutneys and jams.
Nothing says summer like corn on the cob, available July through September. While corn is actually a whole grain, when eaten fresh it’s considered a vegetable (a starchy one).
Corn has a low glycemic index value, meaning its carbohydrates don’t lead to sharp rises in blood glucose and insulin.
One cup of sweet corn kernels (about one large ear of corn) provides 3.5 g of fiber, which acts as a prebiotic nourishing beneficial gut bacteria.
Yellow corn is also a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals linked to protection against cataracts, macular degeneration and cognitive decline.
Enjoy sweet corn on the cob boiled or grilled. Toss cooked corn kernels into green salads, bean salads, burrito bowls and salsas or bake them into savory corn bread.
Juicy sweet-tasting raspberries, available June through September, are my favorite summer berries.
Raspberries stand out from other berries for their high content of ellagic acid, a phytochemical with anti-cancer properties. They’re also a good source of anthocyanins, plant compounds thought to help reduce inflammation, support the immune system and guard against Type 2 diabetes.
One cup of fresh raspberries serves up an impressive 8 g of fiber and 32 mg of vitamin C (one-third of a day’s worth) along with some calcium, potassium and folate.
Top overnight oats or yogurt with fresh raspberries, toss them into mixed green salads, stir them into muffin and pancake batters or blend them into smoothies and protein shakes. Serve fresh raspberries with chocolate sorbet for a summer dessert.
Build your summer salads with locally grown kale, Swiss chard and lettuces (eg, Romaine, green leaf, red leaf), available June/July through September.
These greens are excellent sources of brain-friendly nutrients and phytochemicals, including folate, vitamin K, beta-carotene and lutein. In fact, the MIND diet recommends eating at least one-half cup of leafy greens daily. (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.)
Beyond green salads, add kale and Swiss chard leaves to green smoothies, pasta sauces, stir-fries and egg dishes. Try grilled Romaine lettuce as a side dish; brush Romaine hearts with an herbed balsamic or red wine vinaigrette and grill until lightly browned on all sides.
A member of the legume family, snow peas have flat pods containing very small peas. They’re slightly tender and have a mildly sweet taste. Look for snow peas at local farmers markets June through September.
On the nutrition front, one cup of snow peas supplies more than half a day’s worth of vitamin C and 23 mcg of bone-building vitamin K (one-quarter of a day’s worth). Snow peas also offer a decent amount of vitamin A, folate, potassium and fiber.
Enjoy raw snow peas, as part of a crudité tray, served with hummus or Green Goddess dressing. Before eating, you can remove the string along the edge of the pod if you like (I don’t bother).
Slice snow peas into thin vertical strips and toss into a green leafy salad along with toasted slivered almonds. Add snow peas to stir-fries and vegetable soups. Or lightly sauté them in olive oil and garlic for a side dish. Don’t overcook snow peas or they’ll lose their crispness.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD