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Health Information | 05/27/2021

Seasonal Superfoods

By  Helen Mastro, MS, RD, CDE
a plate of healthy salmon, broccoli, tomatoes and onions
Spring is my favorite time of the year. The days are getting longer, the sun is stronger, winter is definitely over, and summer is on its way! It’s the perfect time of year to work on healthy habits like exercising more and eating better.

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you might have noticed that the produce department is brimming with fresh tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries, and even corn on the cob. Before we know it, farmer’s markets will be popping up everywhere.

Late spring and summer foods can be some of the most nutritious around, and this list includes my must-have “seasonal superfoods” – the ones that provide exceptional amounts of nutrients, have numerous health benefits, and should be on your table every week.

Berries –Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are some of nature’s most potent sources of antioxidants. They can help prevent cancer, heart disease, and inflammation related to many diseases. Buy a container of each, toss them together, and make summertime oatmeal for a healthy breakfast.

Tomatoes – Canned tomatoes are one of the most frequently consumed vegetables in America, mainly because of our love for pizza, ketchup, and salsa. Still, nothing beats the taste of fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, which are available starting right now. Loaded with the antioxidants lutein and lycopene, as well as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and potassium, tomatoes have been shown to reduce the risk of everything from cataracts to cancer. Their antioxidants are best absorbed when tomatoes are heated or roasted and eaten with a bit of olive oil.

Cantaloupe – This melon is actually a member of the cucumber family, and the sweet, juicy fruit can keep you cool as a cucumber on a hot summer day. Cantaloupes are full of beta-carotene and vitamin C, and just a 1-cup serving has as much potassium as a banana. These nutritional benefits, along with their high water content, make them a perfect recovery food to enjoy after exercise.

Vidalia Onions – Onions have many medicinal benefits and have been used to treat coughs, breathing problems, and bacterial infections in Chinese medicine. Vidalias are the delicious and surprisingly sweet onions grown in central Georgia, and they are available only during the spring and summer. Onions (like garlic) are rich in sulfides, which may also lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Eat them while they’re available, and remember to stock up at the end of the summer. Onions can be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place for up to 4 weeks.

Carrots – Carrots contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant. Carrots also contain zeaxanthin and lutein, which are also related to vitamin A and may decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration. Eating a diet rich in these antioxidants may help reduce your risk of cancer by preventing damage to your body's healthy cells. Since carrots are low in calories and a good source of fiber, they are an excellent addition to a weight loss plan. This is important because obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Kale – This vegetable is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K and a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium. It’s also low in calories and contains fiber. Kale contains compounds called glucosinolates that may help prevent cancer. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are related to vitamin A and may help lower your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. Add kale to a salad or make your own baked kale chips to eat as an alternative to potato chips.

Spinach – This vegetable is one of the best known of all the anti-inflammatory superfoods. It contains lutein, which is related to vitamin A and beta carotene. Spinach also gives you iron, vitamin K, and folate, and it is very low in calories, so it’s perfect for weight loss diets. Research shows that people who eat green leafy vegetables like spinach may have a decreased risk of macular degeneration, so add plenty of fresh or cooked spinach to your diet. We suggest spinach salads or spinach added to a vegetable omelet or a smoothie for a quick breakfast.

Wild Salmon – While you can buy farmed salmon year-round, wild salmon usually comes from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and is generally available from late May through August. Anyone who has compared the color, taste, and texture of wild and farmed salmon knows that the two are very different. Both are a great source of protein and are high in brain and heart-healthy omega-3 fat (although it may depend on what the farmed salmon is fed), but the rich, deep flavor of wild salmon just can’t be beat. An added plus is that they are far more environmentally friendly and free from coloring agents, antibiotics, and additives often used in feed and other aspects of the farming process. If you’ve never tasted wild salmon, now is the time to try it!

Fresh Herbs – Whether you have a spot in the garden or just a sunny windowsill, fresh herbs are very easy for anyone to grow. Not only do they make almost any food pop with summertime freshness, but herbs can also provide lots of health benefits: mint can soothe stomach indigestion, rosemary stimulates the immune system and reduces inflammation, garlic can help reduce heart disease, the antioxidants in oregano and basil can protect cells from damage, and the oils in basil’s leaves prevent the growth of bacteria.

Broccoli – OK, maybe this one is readily available all year long, but no list of superfoods is complete without it! Broccoli (along with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) is a cruciferous vegetable and most famous for its anti-cancer properties. Researchers have studied the compounds in broccoli for years and confirmed that they can increase the death rate of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. For a seasonal twist, try slicing the stalks the long way, toss them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and then grill.

Next time you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market, bring home these superfoods and get started on some healthy eating!

About The Author

Helen Mastro, MS, RD, CDE

Helen Mastro has been with Atrius Health since 1993 and sees patients at our Somerville and Wellesley practice locations. While she provides medical nutrition therapy education for a wide variety of nutritional problems, she has a particular interest in the areas of diabetes education, obesity, and pediatric nutrition.

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