Grab your sack or satchel and let’s go to the farmer’s market. Summer is the perfect time to hit the outdoor marts and enjoy a dose of vitamin D-rich sunshine while scouting for an array of fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, you’ll want to bring some home to add color and nutrients to your home-cooked meals. Summer brings a variety of options that are fresh and in season. If you’re looking for nutrient density and health benefits, don’t forget to pick up these five healthy summer fruit picks.
Summer Fruit: Red Bell Peppers
You might think citrus fruits reign supreme with regard to vitamin C content – but you might be better served eating a red bell pepper. In fact, one medium red bell pepper has a whopping 152 milligrams of this antioxidant vitamin. In contrast, a whole orange contains only 50 milligrams of C, so you’re getting three times more when you choose the pepper.
What’s so important about vitamin C? Vitamin C plays a special role in mopping up free radicals and oxidative stress inside cells Plus, it helps recycle another antioxidant vitamin – vitamin E. Another thing to love about red bell peppers – they’re a rich source of beta-carotene, a compound that supports eye health and protects against age-related eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
You can prepare red bell peppers in many ways – sautéing, roasting, or by baking (how about stuffed peppers?) Experiment a bit but enjoy them raw as well in your next salad. Adding red bell peppers raw to a salad preserves their vitamin C content best. Vitamin C is very sensitive to heat and cooking can lead to the loss of more than 40% of this essential vitamin.
Summer Fruit: Watermelon
What would summer be without slicing open a juicy watermelon? What a way to cool off – and there’s more good news about this naturally sweet fruit. Eating watermelon has surprising health benefits. In fact, watermelon contains a compound called citrulline that your body converts into the amino acid l-arginine. L-arginine, in turn, boosts the production of nitric oxide within the walls of blood vessels. The end result is that nitric oxide opens your arteries wider and helps lower your blood pressure.
In fact, a small study carried out at Florida State University showed that a watermelon extract significantly reduced blood pressure in the large blood vessel in the heart called the aorta. It also improved the function of peripheral arteries. So, watermelon is a heart-healthy summertime treat!
Despite being more than 90% water, watermelon is a powerhouse of nutrients, including beta-carotene, vitamin C, lycopene, and antioxidants. Since you likely eat watermelon raw, you don’t have to worry about nutrient loss due to cooking. However, don’t slice open watermelon until you’re ready to eat it. It can lose a significant amount of vitamin C when you expose it to light.
Summer Fruit: Tomatoes
Tomatoes are best known for being rich in lycopene. What’s so special about lycopene? This compound, a type of carotenoid, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity that’s beneficial for cells and tissues. Some studies show that a lycopene-rich diet lowers the risk of some types of cancer, especially prostate cancer. At the same time, its anti-inflammatory activity makes it a healthy choice for your heart and blood vessels.
While slicing into a fresh tomato sounds like the best way to enjoy its nutrient-rich goodness, you’ll absorb the lycopene best if you process tomatoes and turn them into tomato sauce. Heat enhances the bioavailability of the lycopene, so your body can enjoy more of the benefits.
Summer Fruit: Blueberries
Come June, blueberries swing into season – and what a nutritional powerhouse they are! A single serving supplies a quarter of the day’s vitamin C, but blueberries are also jam-packed with anthocyanins, plant pigments with anti-inflammatory activity. The anthocyanins in blueberries may be a particularly good treatment for heart and brain health. Plus, they contain other flavonols, compounds linked with a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In addition, studies show that blueberries are capable of reducing damage to DNA, the genetic material inside each of your cells. Therefore, they may play a role in cancer prevention and slowing aging. Plus, in rat and older humans, blueberries improve cognition. That’s a lot of good stuff from one berry! Try freezing them until firm and popping them into your mouth. You can enjoy homemade, all-natural popsicle bites!
Summer Fruit: Tart Cherries
Another colorful berry with a variety of health benefits is tart cherries. Like watermelon, tart cherries lower blood pressure. In one study, 15 men with pre-hypertension drank a ¼ cup of Montmorency cherry juice concentrate. After several hours, the men who drank the pleasingly tart drink experienced a 7% drop in blood pressure. Like blueberries, tart cherries are also rich in heart-healthy anthocyanins.
Thanks to their anti-inflammatory activity, some studies show that tart cherries and tart cherry juice can ease joint pain and swelling due to arthritis, not to mention, they help ward off gout attacks. Plus, some research shows cherry juice or eating 100 to 120 cherries daily aids in muscle recovery after exercise. So, grab a bowl of cherries when you’re enjoying the summer sunshine! They’re better for you than processed food snacks.
The Bottom Line
Of course, these aren’t the only summer produce options you have to choose from. Other summer notables include beets, Asian pears, grapes, radishes, strawberries, raspberries, zucchini, figs, plums, peaches, and apricots. So many ways to add color to a salad! When you buy in season, you get the freshest produce and, often, at a savings as well. So, make this summer as colorful as possible with lots of vivid produce in a variety of shades. Visit a farmer’s market or a pick-your-own berry farm and turn sourcing fresh produce into fun and exercise. You won’t be disappointed.
Science Daily. “Watermelon lowers blood pressure, study finds”
J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14;58(7):3901-9. doi: 10.1021/jf902263n.
Michigan Medicine University of Michigan Health Library. “Tart Cherry”
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