Summer fruits and vegetables are not only delicious but so versatile and easy to prepare. From straight-up snacking to salads, dips, and sides for your next BBQ, take full advantage of the summer harvest. Stroll through your local farmers' market to learn more about the farmers and what they grow, even visit a U-pick farm to gather berries with your kids. Below, I share with you 10 fruits and vegetables that will add fiber, antioxidants, flavor, and fun to your next meal. Bon appetit!
Beets contain naturally occurring nitrates, which may improve cardiovascular profiles. One study found an association between consumption of beet juice and a reduction in blood pressure. Those same nitrates also have benefits for athletes: Researchers theorize that when those nitrates are absorbed and turned into nitric oxide, they reduce the need for oxygen and enhance tolerance to high-intensity exercise.
Try it: Roasted Beet White Bean Hummus
Why I like it: This recipe uses white beans instead of the traditional chickpea (garbanzo bean). Combining this with beets makes for a vibrant dip or sandwich spread.
Lychee, a tropical fruit native to Southeastern Asia, might not be on your shopping list, but if you see it in stores, give it a try. The fruits are rich in immune-boosting vitamin C and antioxidant compounds like proanthocyanidins, as well as heart-healthy potassium. Eat them freshly peeled, or add them, quartered, into fruit salads or salsas.
Try it: Strawberry-Lychee Granita
Why I like it: Granitas, otherwise known as Italian ices, are like the snow cones you had as a kid, only tastier, less fluorescent, and more sophisticated.
Compared with hard shell winter squash varieties, summer squash is tender and has a thinner skin -- meaning you can eat the whole fruit and get all of the nutrients it has to offer. The skin is particularly rich in antioxidants, while the seeds contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, the flesh contains high amounts of lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, which are all anti-inflammatory carotenoids that are linked to eye health.
Why I like it: Summertime grilling wouldn’t be complete without a delicious skewer recipe. Feel free to add onions or even tomatoes to your skewer, but it's the grilled squash and zucchini that add flavor, texture, and fiber to this grilled meal.
They're rich in melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, as a result regular consumption of cherriesmay help improve sleep quality. In addition, cherries may benefit athletes: their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may help reduce muscle damage and pain during tough exercise -- so you can move on to your next workout sooner!
Try it: Black Cherry Spritzer
Why I like it: Whole black cherries lend a rich, sweet taste and are brimming with anthocyanins, fiber, and immunity-boosting vitamin C. Agave nectar is a low-glycemic natural sweetener.
Hearts of Palm
Even though they pale in comparison to more brightly colored fruits and vegetables, hearts of palm still have plenty to offer in terms of nutrition: They’re a good source potassium, iron, and zinc, as well as vitamins B2, B6, and C. Plus, they’re a low-calorie but healthy snack: for just 40 calories, you get 4 grams of filling fiber and 4 grams of protein!
Try it: Hearts of Palm and Avocado Salad
Why I like it: To me, this is a perfect salad for a barbecue -- it pairs well with any protein! Think about adding chickpeas to round this out as a complete salad.
Watermelon might just be the perfect summer fruit: because it’s made of 92 percent water, it’s extremely hydrating on hot summer days. It also has some of the highest levels of lycopene of any fruit. Lycopene is a phytonutrient that has been found to protect skin against UV damage from within. Lycopene has also been linked to cancer prevention and heart and bone health.
Try it: Watermelon and Feta Salad
Why I like it: This is one of my favorite summer salads. The feta’s naturally salty taste combines beautifully with the watermelon and mint! Love this even for a refreshing snack!
Berries are a great summer snack. Compared with other fruits, they are generally higher in fiber and lower and sugar. Berries owe their deep red, purple, and blue colors to anthocyanins, which act as anti-inflammatories and have been shown to reduce the effects of age-related memory loss. Snack on berries alone, or sprinkle them in oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, or salads.
Try it: Berry Granola Parfait Pops
Why I like it: Besides being gorgeous, these popsicles are so summery. The addition of the granola just makes them an even better treat (better, meaning: tasty, crunchy, worth it!). They make a great afternoon snack for you and your kids or for guests after a summer meal.
Like watermelon, tomatoes are rich in lycopene. Tomatoes play an important role in heart health: Their wide variety of phytonutrients provide antioxidant support and have been shown to improve lipid profiles in the blood; specifically, their consumption is linked to decreased LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Pair tomatoes with fats like olive oil, mozzarella cheese, or avocado: healthy fats improve the absorption of their nutrients!
Why I like it: This colorful mix is dressed with tomato water, which is made by draining pureed tomatoes for a day. The sweet flavor of the mango offsets the spice of the chiles. The flavor is astonishing! You'll want to spoon up every drop!
You might think of figs as a fall fruit, but the fruit actually has two distinct harvests -- one in the summer and one in the fall. The breba crop, which starts in June, is known for being less sweet. In addition to being a good source of fiber, figs are a natural source of prebiotics, a type of carbohydrate that support the good bacteria in our gut known as probiotics.
Why I like it: This recipe is rich in fiber and potassium. Figs are a nutritious addition to a salad and arugula offers plenty of vitamins A and C, and the pine nuts have vitamin K.
Next time you serve eggplant -- whether stuffed, stewed, grilled, or stir-fried -- make sure you leave the skin on: The peel is rich in an anthocyanin compound called nasunin. In studies, nasunin was found to improve cognitive function by protecting the lipid-containing membranes around nerve cells. Other antioxidant and phenolic compounds in the culinary fruit have also been shown to protect against free radical damage and improve blood flow to the heart.
Why I like it: This yogurt sauce, otherwise known as tzatziki, is a delicious complement to grilled eggplant and is lower in fat than most store-bought dips.
Watch how to use some great produce in a fresh juice with beet, apple and mint: