As we enter the sunset of summer, it’s time to partake of these five fruits and vegetables that are at the peak of their harvests right now in the United States. Because these particular plants are rich in lesser known antioxidants, I’ll focus on those in this post. But I’ll also list the more well-known vitamins and minerals (some of which are also antioxidants) contained in each. You can refer to the list at the end of this post to see the health benefits they promote.
Strange Names, Awesome Powers
Unlike vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, like those that fall in the polyphenic flavonoids category, are a relatively new discovery in the field of nutrition science. As such, we don’t yet understand exactly how these antioxidants work, but studies have shown that all antioxidants work to fight inflammation and promote cell repair by absorbing free-radicals in our bodies.
Free-radicals are released from damage done on the molecular level due to poor nutrition, inhaling or ingesting pollutants and toxins, sun damage, the aging process and infections from viruses, bacteria and fungi. Without a fix for free-radicals, cells become damaged and inflammation occurs. In many cases, as in viruses, the cell damage and inflammation are short-lived. But most of today’s deadliest diseases – many cancers, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia – can be traced to chronic cell damage and inflammation.
It’s important to note that, thus far, studies show supplements containing antioxidants do little to fight these diseases while running the risk for consuming toxic levels of these substances. The best way to get health benefits from antioxidants is to consume them in the foods that contain them naturally.
So, get these five antioxidant power plants while the gettin’ is good:
While bell peppers don’t contain lots of the newly discovered phytochemicals, they contain the more well-known antioxidants in abundance: vitamin A, vitamin C, copper, manganese, iron, zinc and selenium. Bell peppers also contain magnesium, potassium and B vitamins 1, 2, 3 and 6.
Like tomatoes, some people have difficulty digesting bell peppers raw. This is most true for the least ripe variety, green bell peppers. Red, orange and yellow are milder and more easily digested. To avoid digestive upset, grill, roast or lightly saute them.
These peach-colored flesh melons offer manganese, potassium and vitamins A, B-3, B-5 and C. They’re chock full of flavonoids like beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. Zeaxanthin has been shown to promote eye health and reduce the risk for degenerative eye diseases.
To find a perfectly ripe cantaloupe, use your senses. Examine the shell to be sure it’s free of any cracks or soft spots. Knock it gently, it should have a slightly hollow sound. Smell it, it should have the faint sweet odor of its flesh. Lastly, press the stem end with your thumb, it should give slightly. If it’s hard, it’s under-ripe. If it’s very soft, it’s over-ripe.
These purple veggies pack plenty of B vitamins, including 1, 3, 5 and 6, as well as copper, iron, manganese and potassium. Eggplants contain the powerful anti-inflammatory phytochemical known as anthocyannis. Anthocyannis is believed to have anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects.
Eggplants are terrific grilled. So, it’s a happy coincidence eggplants are harvested throughout the peak of grilling season. Just slice, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, grill on both sides until tender and enjoy!
Ready for this list? Figs have vitamins A, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-9, E and K and the minerals calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc. As if that weren’t enough, figs contain four flavonoids: carotenes, chlorogenic acid, lutein and tannins. Chlorogenic acid has been shown to help regulate blood glucose.
The bad news is these tear-drop shaped Mediterranean fruits have a short harvest season and shelf life. The good news is dried figs contain almost all of the nutrients that fresh ones do and some of them in higher concentrations compared to their fresh counterparts.
Grapes showcase the minerals copper, iron and manganese; vitamins A, B-1, B-2, B-6, C and K. All grapes contain a myriad of phytochemicals. But, the red variety also contains two of the most powerful anti-inflammatory flavonoids – anthocyannis and resveratrol.
So, don’t confine grapes to the cheese tray at parties or kids’ snack bags. Toss them into yogurt, cottage cheese and salads. Add raisins to oatmeal, pancake batter and slaws.
Devour the bounty August has to offer while it lasts and reap the nutritious rewards.
Vitamin A: Antioxidant that promotes immunity function and eye, skin and red blood cell health
Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin): Aids in metabolism of carbohydrates
Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin): Necessary for converting food to energy
Vitamin B-3 (Niacin): Necessary for generating energy for cells
Vitamin B-5 (Pantothenic Acid): Metabolic necessity
Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine): Necessary for blood health and to feel energized
Vitamin B-9 (Folate): Necessary for the creation of new blood cells
Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts immunity
Vitamin E: Antioxidant that promotes healthy skin and eyes and boosts immunity
Vitamin K: Important for healthy blood and bones
Calcium: Necessary for strong teeth and bones
Copper: Antioxidant that promotes healthy tissue in the eyes, brain, skin and bones
Iron: Antioxidant necessary for blood health
Magnesium: Helps to control blood glucose and promotes blood vessel health
Manganese: Antioxidant important in bone health and blood sugar regulation
Potassium: An electrolyte that assists in controlling blood pressure
Selenium: Antioxidant critical to DNA synthesis
Zinc: Antioxidant needed for healing and healthy skin
Sources: visualnews.com, wisebread.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Harvard.edu