Are you ready for summer? One of the joys of warm weather is the chance to visit a farmer’s market and admire the beautiful fruits and vegetables just begging to go home with you. And why not? There’s no better way to decorate the dinner table (and your inside) than with colorful fruits and veggies.
As temperatures rise, expect to see an array of juicy summer fruits, each with its own unique health benefits. The beauty of these fruits is they have a natural sweetness that satisfies a sweet tooth so you won’t grab a cookie. But even if you turn natural fruits into a dessert by baking them into a pie or pudding, you’re still getting the benefits of real phytochemicals, not like the “fake” fruit you sometimes find in store-bought products.
So, when choosing summer fruits, which ones have the most health benefits?
Summer Fruits: The Vibrant World of Berries
Ever wonder why berries are dressed up in such vivid shades of purples, blue, and burgundy? You’re seeing the brilliant anthocyanins, natural pigments that also help to protect plants against environmental stress. Not only are anthocyanins powerful plant protectors, they’re potent antioxidants that also naturally ease inflammation.
What’s more, studies suggest foods high in anthocyanins may protect against obesity, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. These plant pigments also promote brain and eye health. You’ll find anthocyanins in a variety of berries, including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, bilberries, strawberries, and chokeberries. Some veggies also contain anthocyanins as well, including purple sweet potatoes and red cabbage.
Bonus: A study showed eating one to two servings of berries daily reduces arterial stiffness and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Another large study found that participants who ate the most berries had a lower risk of developing hypertension relative to those who ate the least. Berries are good for your arteries and they’re a summer fruit that’s easy to find in grocery stores and “pick it yourself” farms.
If you’re concerned about cognitive health, blueberries are your best bet. In one study, older adults with mild cognitive impairment experienced improvements in memory and cognitive function after eating freeze-dried blueberries for 16 weeks. The amount they ate was equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries. You can even enjoy blueberries in the dead of winter by buying frozen ones.
Fresh Berry Buying Tips: Choose bright, firm berries without evidence of mold. Don’t wash berries until you’re ready to eat them. Washing them and letting them set around will cause them to rot faster.
Summer Fruits: Peaches
Ever wonder why peaches are orange? It’s because they’re rich in an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant called beta-carotene. Not only does beta-carotene protect cells against oxidative damage, it defends your visual health. Diets rich in beta-carotene may lower the risk for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, two common causes of visual loss in older people. Like most fruits, peaches are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Plus, they’re low in calories. You can enjoy a whole peach for around 60 calories.
Peaches also naturally contain phenolic compounds that protect against metabolic syndrome, a precursor to other health problems such as coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes. Did you know in China the peach is a symbol of good luck and longevity? Now, you know why peaches are such a popular summer fruit.
Buying Tips: Look for vibrantly colored peaches. If you squeeze a peach and it feels soft, it’s ripe and at its peak of sweetness, but use a soft, juicy peach quickly or it will go bad.
Summer Fruits: Watermelon
Watermelon is the summer fruit kids and adults alike enjoy at summer picnics. Although you might think this bright red melon is mostly water, it’s lycopene that gives watermelon its characteristic red coloration. Lycopene, a member of the carotenoid family like beta-carotene, is an anti-inflammatory pigment that may protect against heart disease and some forms of cancer. Surprisingly, watermelon has more lycopene than tomatoes.
Here’s a fact about watermelon that may surprise you. What lies inside watermelon is an amino acid called l-citrulline that, based on a small study, helps reduce muscle soreness after a workout. As an extra bonus, your body converts l-citrulline to l-arginine and then to nitric oxide. The bottom line is nitric oxide helps open up your arteries and lower your blood pressure. Pretty sweet deal for something that tastes so good.
Buying Tips: Choose a watermelon that’s uniform in shape. If a watermelon has a yellow patch on it, it ripened on the vine and should be sweet. Choose a heavy watermelon for more flavor. If it has a hollow sound when you tap it, it’s mature and ready to eat.
Summer Fruits: Cherries
You might think of cherries as being berries – but not quite. They’re classified separately as a fruit because they contain a pit. Yet, cherries, particularly tart cherries, offer health benefits that not even blueberries can top. Not only are they a fruit that guards against gout, munching on tart cherries or drinking tart cherry juice may help relieve some of the soreness you experience after a tough workout. Tart cherries are the ultimate anti-inflammatory fruit and one that also helps with sleep.
One study carried out by researchers at Louisiana State University found that participants who drink tart cherry juice twice daily enjoyed an additional 84 minutes of sleep each night that the control group didn’t. The reason? Tart cherries are rich in a hormone called melatonin that helps control your sleep-wake cycle. It also helps delay the breakdown of tryptophan so it stays in your system longer. Both are linked with more restorative sleep.
Summer Fruits: Buying Tips:
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find fresh tart cherries, although sweet cherries are widely available at grocery stores in the summer. They’re available frozen and canned. You can also buy tart cherry juice, but don’t go overboard, it’s high in natural sugar. When buying sweet cherries, the darker the color, the sweeter they will be.
The Bottom Line
Enjoy the abundance of produce this summer, including summer fruits. We didn’t cover them all – mangos, guava, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, figs, plums, apricots, and nectarines are other summer fruits you can enjoy as the temperatures rise. Enjoy!
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