A slice of watermelon. A handful of berries. A glass of iced tea. These are all classic summertime foods, and as it turns out, they’re also great choices to keep you healthy.
Eating more fruits and vegetables will help prevent you from developing any vitamin and mineral deficiencies (which are rare in the U.S.) but these are foods that also contain antioxidants and phytonutrients — compounds that may also help protect you against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and obesity, among other conditions.
Fruits and vegetables are well-represented on our list, not only because of their health benefits, but also because they’re in-season during the summer months. If you’re like most Americans, though, you’re only eating three servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That’s not enough — you need five or more — especially when summer is the season for an abundance of fresh produce. Take a few tips from our list for fresh, light and nutritious foods — many you won’t even need to heat up (a plus when it’s steamy outside).
Behold the power contained in the tiny blueberry: Not only does just one serving of blueberries contain almost one-quarter of your recommended daily vitamin C needs to help support a healthy immune system, emerging research also suggests that blueberries may be helpful in protecting you from a variety of maladies. Blueberries may reduce the risk of developing harmful plaques in your arteries, which in turn reduces your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Another recent study found that polyphenols — that’s the thing in blueberries that gives them their color — may help keep bones healthy. The antioxidants in blueberries may also help reduce the risk or slow the development of neurodegenerative diseases and help keep blood sugar levels under control.
Avocados find their way onto salads, into dressings and on top of burgers with regularity, so it’s a good thing that they’re full of all sorts of healthy things, including fiber, vitamins B5, B6, C, K, folate and potassium, as well as cell-protecting antioxidants.
Avocados are also full of fat, but don’t avoid them because of this. Yes, one half of an avocado contains 15 grams of unsaturated fat, but it’s good fat — monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) have been found to help improve cholesterol levels as well as reduce the risk of developing heart disease. And researchers have also found an association between a diet rich in MUFAs and better blood sugar control.
Cucumbers. You can put them on your eyes to help reduce redness and puffiness. You can put them in your water to add a punch of flavor to a cold beverage. And they make a tasty high-fiber, low-calorie snack.
What you might not know is that cucumbers are also a great source of beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium and silica, as well as vitamins C, K and B5, which means they may help lower blood pressure, keep your body’s connective tissues healthy and help keep your skin hydrated. In recent studies, researchers have found encouraging preliminary evidence that cucumbers may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
Be sure to eat the skin and seeds, because that’s where you’ll find the biggest bang of nutrients.
7. (Iced) Green Tea
Put down your sugar-laden soda and pour yourself some tea. And make it green. Green tea is packed full of healthy antioxidants, similar to those found in blueberries, grapes and pomegranates, and it’s those antioxidants that help keep us healthy.
Iced or hot, green tea may help reduce your risk of all sorts of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who drink about 3 cups of green tea daily had a 46 to 65 percent decrease in their risk of developing hypertension [source: Harvard Women’s Health Watch]. And while additional real-world studies need to be conducted, drinking two cups of green tea every day shows promise in reducing the risk of developing certain cancers, including prostate, colorectal and lung cancers, among others.
6. Leafy Greens
There is a leafy green available for eating no matter what the season. While collard greens, kale and mustard greens are best during the autumn and winter months when they are in season, there are plenty of leafy greens that are easy to grow in your summer garden. Beet greens, dandelion greens, spinach and Swiss chard are all in season throughout the spring and summer months, as are lettuce and salad greens such as arugula, red and green leaf lettuce, romaine, and watercress.
Greens are full of the cell-protecting and repairing antioxidants vitamins C and A, and contain protein and iron, as well as B vitamins and fiber. They also contain a lot of water, which will help keep you hydrated during hot summer days. And when it comes to eating your greens, you really can’t go overboard — they’re low in calories, low in sodium and are naturally cholesterol-free. Not only do they make a great salad — whether as a side or star of the meal — don’t be shy about throwing them into a blender for a green smoothie
5. Beans and Legumes
Despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recommendation that we eat at least 3 cups of beans and legumes in our weekly diets, Americans are barely consuming just 1 cup per week, which is tragic because beans and legumes are nutritional forces of nature [source: Johns Hopkins].
Beans and legumes such as black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils and soybeans are good sources of antioxidants for cell health, as well as B vitamins, folate, calcium, iron, potassium and protein. They’re also full of fiber. For example, Garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas, and the main ingredient in hummus) contain as much as 12.5 grams — that’s just shy of half an ounce — of fiber in just 1 cup of cooked beans. If that sounds like a lot of fiber, it is; it’s roughly half of your fiber intake needs for just one day [source: The World’s Healthiest Foods]. Beans and legumes contain high levels of soluble fiber, a type of fiber associated with heart health, lower cholesterol levels, blood sugar regulation and weight loss.
4. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers make a colorful addition to a snack, salad or meal, but there’s more to this crunchy fruit (yes, bell pepper is technically a fruit, rather than a vegetable) than meets the eye. Sweet bell peppers are low in calories and high in vitamins. One-half of a cup of green, red or yellow bell peppers contains more than 230 percent of your recommended daily vitamin C intake, and only 20 calories [source: McDonald].
Bell peppers also contain phytochemicals called carotenoids. Carotenoids give peppers (and other fruits and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins and tomatoes) their bright red, orange and yellow color — and a diet high in carotenoid-dense foods has been associated with reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration, and some cancers, such as potentially promising activity against lung and prostate cancers [source: Linus Pauling Institute].
Mangoes are high in vitamins A and C. Eat one cup of sliced mangoes, and you’ve covered about 25 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A (which is good for your eyesight) and about 75 percent of your daily vitamin C needs (which is good for your immune system). They’re also high in fiber (which will help keep you feeling full longer), high in potassium (which helps with heart health), and low in calories, fat, sodium and cholesterol [source: McDonald, Medical Daily]. There are also early findings that mangoes may be helpful in reducing body fat and blood sugar levels.
Slicing 1 cup of raw tomato (about one medium-sized fruit) for your lunchtime salad gives you as much as 40 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 20 percent of your daily vitamin A — all for just about 35 calories and zero fat [source: McDonald]. What’s not to love?
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins A, C and E as well as folate and potassium. And in addition to being packed full of vitamins and minerals, studies also have found tomatoes may be antioxidant, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and, potentially, anti-cancer powerhouses. They have heart-protective qualities, they help lower cholesterol levels (that’s total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides), and emerging studies find tomatoes also may help with keeping bones healthy.
Water helps keep your body hydrated, which is important for keeping all of your bodily systems working properly. It keeps tissues moist and cells healthy, and it helps remove toxins and waste. It helps the body regulate temperature and helps prevent dehydration (even mild dehydration can negatively affect your energy levels).
How much water is enough? It’s going to depend on your lifestyle, your habits and how your individual body works, but the Institute of Medicine suggests roughly 2 to 3 liters of total fluids every day (that’s 2.2 liters or 9 cups for women and 3 liters or 13 cups for men every day) [source: Mayo Clinic].
Bored with water? Many fruits and vegetables add to your water intake while boosting your vitamin and mineral intake at the same time. Watermelon, radishes and zucchini, for example, all contain high amounts of water per serving — more than 90 percent water by weight.