Summer brings people together to bask in the sunshine, enjoy nature, and, most importantly, eat some flavorful food.
Throughout the summer months, you can find an abundance of in-season goodies at the store, from strawberries and apricots to zucchini, avocado, and corn.
The best part? Summer produce isn’t just delicious and beautiful to look at; it also helps your body feel its best.
“You can’t go wrong with eating fruits and vegetables,” says Sandra, a One Drop health coach, registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN), and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). Yes, they’re relatively low calorie, but they’re also typically high in fiber and rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for overall health.
Specifically, fiber—found in summer produce such as leafy greens (examples include collards, kale, and spinach), apples, okra, and berries—can help prevent blood sugar spikes after eating, thanks to its ability to slow the body’s absorption of glucose from food, explains Sandra. “Fiber can also help lower LDL cholesterol, which is important in diabetes management and heart health, and it can keep your gut healthy,” she adds. In general, she says, most adults should aim for about 25-38 grams of fiber per day.
If you love eating bright red and orange fruits and veggies such as apricots, bell peppers, tomatoes, and carrots, that means you’re also getting lots of vitamins and antioxidants that help fight inflammation, explains Sandra. Berries are high in antioxidants, too, including some that may have benefits in blood sugar management by improving insulin resistance.
So, how do you make the most of these delectable options and their unique health benefits? Here are a few of Sandra’s tips for enjoying summer produce:
Combine Your Favorite Flavors
There are no rules when it comes to pairing food, says Sandra. It’s all about your preferences, your cravings, and your nutritional needs. But, if you need somewhere to start, here are some of Sandra’s recommendations:
- Berries and avocado. Start your morning with a refreshing berry smoothie, and blend in avocado for more texture and an extra boost of fiber and healthy fat.
- Beets and apples. “I like these two in a salad,” says Sandra. Toss with arugula, low-fat feta cheese, and balsamic dressing, then top with pumpkin seeds for a protein-packed crunch.
- Avocado, bell peppers, cucumbers, and carrots. The next time you’re craving guac, upgrade your recipe by mixing in some chopped bell pepper, and swapping chips for low-carb options such as cucumbers or carrots.
- Corn, okra, and tomato. These summer flavors work perfectly in a casserole side dish, says Sandra. Just remember that corn is a starchy vegetable, so you’ll want to keep portions in mind. Also, okra, while shown to be good for blood sugar management, may interfere with metformin, a common medication for diabetes.
- Cucumber and apricots. Rich in potassium (a mineral that can help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels), apricots have a tangy sweetness that’ll balance perfectly with some crunchy cucumbers. Add red onions and a lime cilantro dressing, and you’ve got a great summer salad.
Work Smarter, Not Harder, In the Kitchen
How often do you find yourself throwing away fresh fruits or veggies? If you need a hand with the whole waste-not-want-not approach in the kitchen, here are Sandra’s tips for maximizing the life of your summer produce:
- Prep and store anything that’s ready to be eaten. Wash your fruits, cucumbers, and peppers, and place them in containers so they’re easily accessible as a healthy snack.
- Freeze any other produce for later. Most fruits and vegetables freeze very well (and, yes, they do retain their nutrients after being frozen), says Sandra. Try using carrots and celery in a batch of soup, and freezing portions accordingly. You can even get creative and make healthy frozen desserts such as fruit popsicles.
- Pickle all the things. Pickling is a preservation method that’s much simpler than you think, not to mention you can pickle much more than just cucumbers. To start pickling, you’ll need a pickling solution—a mixture of equal parts water and a vinegar of your choosing, plus any spices you want (think: red pepper flakes, dill seed, coriander, turmeric, black peppercorns)—an airtight container (such as a mason jar), and your produce of choice. You can make good old-fashioned pickles, or get creative with pickled zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, onions, or really any vegetable you want.
Step Outside of Your Palate’s Comfort Zone
Summer is a time of adventure, so why not get adventurous with your taste buds, too? Here are Sandra’s suggestions for spicing up your summer meals:
- Try a new fruit or vegetable. If you’re bored with your usual meal preps, throw something new into the mix. Chayote, for example, is a type of summer squash that’s native from central Mexico and is rich in fiber, folate (a B-vitamin that’s been linked to reduced risks of cancer and heart conditions), magnesium (a nutrient that helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar), and other health-boosting vitamins. Sandra recommends sautéing the fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit!) with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, salt, and pepper for a fresh summer treat.
- Get creative with kabobs. Summer is the perfect time to grill. Make vegetable kabobs using eggplant, bell peppers, tomato, and squash. Pair with a lean protein such as fish or chicken, and you’ve got a hearty dinner to eat while you enjoy a gorgeous summer sunset by the grill.
- Make your own salsa instead of buying a jar at the store. Oftentimes, store-bought salsas can have a lot of sodium (which we know isn’t great for your heart) or even unnecessary added sugars. Instead of picking up a jar on your next grocery run, grab some tomatoes, tomatillos, chili peppers, onion, garlic, and cilantro to make your own fresh salsa at home.
If you have diabetes, consider checking your blood sugar before and after trying a new recipe to better understand how its ingredients impact your health. If you have any questions, reach out to your One Drop coach.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah-Hoy Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.