The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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Dig into A Rainbow of Summer Produce

Dig into A Rainbow of Summer Produce

Dietitian Dialogues

May 27, 2013


Frances Largeman-Roth, RD

The trees are finally lush and covered with bright green leaves. Coats have been shed and stored in the closet until fall, and all that’s left to do is dust off the grill and make plans for all those long, summer evenings. 

Whether you’re grilling or picnicking, be sure to savor all those luscious, nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables that will be taking center stage at the farmer’s market and grocery store soon. Get them while they’re in season and at their peak – it’s always amazing to taste something that was just pulled out of the ground.

Red: Watermelon

As its name suggests, watermelon is made up of 92 percent water, making it a fabulous way to stay hydrated. It’s also loaded with lycopene, a type of carotenoid that gives the melon its signature color. Several studies have found that people with higher amounts of lycopene in their blood have a lower risk of some types of cancer. You might want to pick one up at a farm stand or Farmers Market: Lycopene content is highest in fully ripe – and very red-pink – melons.

How to choose: Look for melons that are symmetrical and heavy for their size. Avoid any with soft spots or cracks in the rind. The surface of the melon should not look dry or grainy.

How to store: Clear some space in the fridge because these babies like it cold. Once you’ve cut into it, store the remaining watermelon in the refrigerator for up to three days, either wrapped tightly in plastic or stored in an airtight container.

How to use: In addition to eating refreshing slices of watermelon, you can also juice it, use it in smoothies and drinks, or make frozen desserts out of it. It makes a refreshing addition to fruit salads. 

Orange: Mango

With its silky flesh and tropical fragrance, this juicy treat is probably the most luxurious fruit. They’re also superstars in the health category too. Mangos are an excellent source of vitamin C and owe their intensely colored flesh to high levels of carotenoids, a type of antioxidant. The fruit also contains phenolic compounds, which help boost the body’s immune system. They are a good source of fiber too. Mangos have two seasons – spring/summer and fall/winter, depending on the varieties. The varieties that you’ll find in season now are Ataulfo, Francis, Haden, Kent, and Tommy Atkins.

How to choose: Mangos should yield slightly when gently squeezed. The stem end should smell fruity. Depending on the variety, a ripe mango may be orange, red, yellow, or green-tinged.

How to store: You can ripen unripe mangos at room temperature by placing them in a paper bag for a few days. Ripe mangos should be refrigerated and used within five days. Once sliced into, you can store the fruit in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.

How to use: Give mangos a rinse just before using. Stand a mango upright (vertically) on a cutting board and using a sharp knife, slice off the “cheeks” of the mango on either side of the seed. Remove the remaining flesh around the seed with the knife. You can then cube or slice the flesh of the mango cheeks and scoop it out with a spoon. 

Yellow: Corn

It's not really summer until you've sunk your teeth into sweet, tender corn on the cob. Get it while it's fresh because the sugars in the corn kernels start converting to starch once it's harvested. Corn is a whole grain (yep, even popcorn) and is high in lutein, an antioxidant that helps protect eyesight. Our bodies don't produce lutein, so we need to get an ample supply in our diet. 

How to choose: Look for corn with tight, bright green husks. 

How to store: Ideally, corn should be purchased and cooked on the same day. You can keep cooked ears, tightly wrapped in plastic, for a day in the fridge. 

How to use: Corn on the cob can be boiled or grilled. You can also strip the kernels off the cob and sauté them with a little butter or olive oil and salt. Delish!

Green: Zucchini

This easy to love summer squash is a slim 27 calories per cup. Zucchini is rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health and may help prevent macular degeneration. Zukes also contains pectin, which helps to stabilize blood sugar.

How to choose: Look for blemish free zucchini with smooth skin. Smaller zucchinis are younger and therefore more tender.

How to store: If you have a cool spot in your kitchen, zucchini will do best there for a few days in a perforated plastic bag. You can also store it in the refrigerator for up to four days.

How to use: A simple sauté with garlic and onions is tasty, and you can also grill, roast, steam, and fry zucchini. Try oven roasting thin slices for a healthier spin on the traditional potato chip.

Blue: Blueberries

Eaten by the handful or baked into a tart, the blueberry is a welcome sight after a harsh winter like the one we just had. Packed with flavor and antioxidants, the berries have proven to be quite promising for helping to reverse age-related declines in cognitive and motor function. The anthocyanin content in blueberries may also help women cut their risk of having a heart attack by a third. A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom found that women (ages 25 to 42) who ate three or more cups of blueberries and strawberries each week were 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack than women who only ate the berries once a month or less. Just another reason to load up on berries!

How to choose: Look for firm berries that are deeply colored, uniform in size and have no signs of mold or shriveling. Blueberries often have a silvery bloom, which is perfectly natural.

How to store: Keep blueberries in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

How to use: Blueberries should be washed just before you use them. Sprinkle them over yogurt and oatmeal and add them to baked goods. Blueberries make a sweet-tart addition to savory recipes, such as grain dishes, green salads and sauces for pork, duck, and poultry. They can also be used in cold soups, smoothies, and frozen desserts.

Purple: Eggplant

There are several eggplant varieties coming into season, from the large pear-shaped fruit with dark, glossy skin to the slender light purple Japanese eggplants and the smaller Italian eggplants. While breaded and fried eggplant can rack up the calories, if you grill or bake it, it’s only 35 calories per cup. And the skin of the eggplant contains nasunin, a plant pigment that has been shown to help protect cell membranes from damage in animal studies.

How to choose: Eggplants should feel heavy for their size and have smooth, glossy skin. Avoid any with soft or brown spots. 

How to store: Eggplants should be used soon after purchasing them. You can store them at room temperature for a couple of days, but if you’re planning to keep them longer, you can refrigerate them whole for up to a week.

How to use: Young eggplants have tender skin that can be eaten. Larger, older eggplants have tougher skin and should be peeled. Older eggplants also become bitter and may require salting and rinsing before using. Young eggplants and varieties like Japanese and Italian eggplant are not bitter and don’t require salting before using them. Eggplant can be roasted, sautéed, grilled, and broiled. If you’re going to fry it, make sure to coat it well in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs first to prevent sogginess.

Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, is a New York Times best selling author and nationally recognized health expert. She is a frequent guest on national TV, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Dr. Oz Show. Frances is the author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide and co-author of the bestselling The CarbLovers Diet and The CarbLovers Diet Cookbook. Frances lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband two kids. Her latest cookbook, Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family, will be published in January 2014 by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. You can keep up with Frances at www.franceslargemanroth.com and follow her on Twitter @FrancesLRothRD.