Ah, Summer… We often pine for those sun-drenched days, conjuring scenes of children laughing and splashing in the pool or ocean, balmy evening walks, and enjoying the gorgeous Virginia landscape in lush shades of green.
In reality, we find ourselves trying to balance everyday life with having family around for visits and making time for summer vacations! All that rushing around can often compromise our eating habits. Sure, we spend the springtime getting ready for bathing suit season, but once summer arrives, we find ourselves at picnics and barbecues that can be filled with some less-than-healthy food options.
If the notion of having the same salad every day causes panic, never fear! Summer is perhaps the most accessible season for enjoying all the fruits that nature has to offer (literally!).
What’s more, research has shown over several years that diets high in fruit & vegetables have numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. Studies are ongoing and suggest the possibility of effects on neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and on inflammatory conditions.
Of course, the concept of eating what is locally grown and in season can and should stretch year round, but today let’s focus on some quick and delicious options to use summer produce to stay cool and stay full. Let’s get started!
At this time of the summer, stone fruits such as peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots may be one of the first things that come to mind. Apart from enjoying these beauties just as they are, they make a great base for salsas and compotes. A peach salsa can be used over your favorite lean protein or scooped up with chips for a great party appetizer. Peaches, red onion, bell pepper, lime juice, chiles, and cilantro combine elements of sweet, tart, and spicy for a taste combination that won’t have anyone bored! (Note: this also works well with fresh mango!)
Summer fruits can be blended with a frozen banana and some almond milk for a satisfying smoothie. Using what’s in season limits the need for added sugars. Taking in these fruits as part of your diet will boost your intake of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.
Melons are also excellent in July and August. Choose melons that are heavy for their size; they should have a sweet aroma of melon when being selected. For a savory application, blend melon with cucumber and mint for a cooling summer soup. To make the texture richer and more satisfying, plain yogurt can be added.
In addition to fruits, there are plenty of vegetables with delicious applications. Some of my favorites are spinach in almost any form (salads, quickly sauteed with garlic, or blended into a smoothie) and summer squash. Summer squash can be combined with tomatoes, olives, and onion for an easy fish recipe. Fresh fish is baked in a packet with the vegetables, leaving you time to get some things done off your to do list while still keeping the fish delicious and moist!
I hope these ideas motivate you to embrace summer produce and to experiment with your own favorite ways to enjoy delicious and nutritious food. For more ideas on how to keep your diet healthy no matter what season it is, consult with one of our dietitians for a review of your eating habits.
Wishing you happy cooking and happier eating!
-Monica Kanal, DO
Websites with sample recipes for the ideas in this post:
1. Peach Salsa
Loef, M. and Walaf, H. (2012) Fruit, vegetables and prevention of cognitive decline or dementia: A systematic review of cohort studies. The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging 16(7)
Crowe, F., et al (2011) Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study. Eur Heart Journal 32(10)