Mouth-watering summer fruits and vegetables to fill your plate – Harvard Health

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With summer almost here, you may be looking to offset the heat, especially in the kitchen. One way to do that is to create refreshing meals that take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Using summer superstars like watermelon, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, sweet corn, peppers, or zucchini will add color and flavor to your meals. They also add healthy fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and inflammation-fighting choices to your plate. And you may even escape the heat of the stove.

Summer’s bounty

Depending on your area, summer produce can include

apples

apricots

avocados

bananas

beets

bell peppers

blackberries

blueberries

cantaloupe

carrots

celery

cherries

corn

cucumbers

eggplant

green beans

honeydew melon

lemons

lima beans

limes

mangos

okra

peaches

plums

raspberries

strawberries

summer squash

tomatillos

tomatoes

watermelon

zucchini

Fiber, micronutrients, and more

Summer fruits and vegetables contain many healthy ingredients. For example:

  • Fiber. Biting into a fresh fruit or vegetable just sounds healthy — it’s that snap and crunch as you shred the plant’s fibrous strands. “Fiber helps us in many ways. It’s the indigestible part of food that acts like nature’s broom, sweeping out what it can along its path, including possible carcinogens. Fiber keeps you full, and it’s associated with lower levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and chronic inflammation,” says Debbie Krivitsky, a clinical dietitian at the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center. “Fiber also increases the diversity and abundance of healthy bacteria in your gut.”
  • Micronutrients. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients — plant chemicals like carotenoids (in tomatoes and squash), anthocyanins (in berries), and terpenes (in cherries) that may help ward off chronic inflammation and chronic disease. “Eat the rainbow, as different color fruits and vegetables provide different antioxidants that provide protection against all chronic disease. The deeper the color of the fruit and vegetable, the richer the antioxidants,” Krivitsky says.
  • Water. Eating watery fruits and vegetables (cantaloupe, cucumber, peaches, strawberries, and watermelon) contributes to your fluid intake, helping you stay hydrated in the summer heat.

Putting it all together

With so many great fruits and vegetables available this summer, you may wonder how to make the most of them. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Make a salad. Add a few blackberries to your usual greens, make a fruit salad, or try a Greek salad. “My family grows cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes so we can pick them ripe, when they’re most flavorful. Sometimes we add green peppers, too,” says Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We make our own dressing, just balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. To make it authentically Greek, we put a slab — not too thick — of sheep’s-milk feta cheese on it. And we increase the protein with chickpeas.”
  • Build a pretty parfait. “Layer yogurt and fruit, such as strawberries and blueberries. It’s beautiful to look at, refreshing, and delicious. You can even take your favorite yogurt and freeze it, then add fruit on top,” Krivitsky says.
  • Sauté vegetables for a primavera. Use any vegetables you like for this dish of lightly sautéed vegetables over pasta. One version: sauté garlic, zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and red pepper in a little olive oil; add oregano; and serve over your favorite whole grain pasta.
  • Grill vegetables. Eggplant, zucchini, and corn on the cob are especially good when brushed with olive oil and grilled. Try to keep vegetable slices thick, so they’ll hold up on the grill. Or dice any vegetables and cook them in a metal grill-top basket. Serve vegetables on top of whole grains such as quinoa.
  • Create your own salsa. Dice fresh tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mango, and cilantro for a salsa to use on top of grilled fish or poultry.
  • Make chilled soups. Try gazpacho (blended tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, bread crusts, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin) or blueberry soup (blended blueberries and yogurt, plus a little apple juice and cinnamon). Refrigerate and serve cold.
  • Grill fruit. Slice plums or peaches in two, remove the pits, and grill facedown for just a few minutes. Serve with a little cinnamon and a dab of frozen yogurt or nonfat Greek yogurt.
  • Freeze fruit for a refreshing snack. Grab a handful of frozen blueberries or raspberries in the afternoon.
  • Spritz citrus onto your food. A squeeze of lemon or lime onto a salad or grilled fish is refreshing and flavorful.

Have fun getting creative and finding new ways to enhance your diet with summer fruits and vegetables. “Aim for at least three servings of fruit and two or more servings of vegetables per day,” Krivitsky advises. “It should be easy if you can incorporate these foods into every meal.”

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