We’re in the thick of it now – the summer harvest. Here’s what’s in-season this month. To learn how each listed nutrient boosts health, see the summary following this post.
These members of the squash family are more than just for pickling. Their flesh sports vitamins B-5 and K, potassium and plenty of carotenes. Eat them with the peels to add fiber, silica, molybdenum and more potassium to their offering. Cukes also have high water content which, when coupled with the potassium they contain, makes them great helpers in blood pressure control.
It’s a common misconception nectarines are hybrids of peaches. While nectarines are related to peaches and, visually, are identical to peaches in every way, save for the lack of skin fuzz, they’re actually a separate fruit in their own right. They pack vitamins A, B-3, C and E and minerals copper, phosphorus and potassium. Like most yellow-orange produce, nectarines offer lots of carotenes.
Plums’ dried variety (aka prunes) are plentiful year round and well-known for intestinal health due to their high fiber content. But, it’s a nice treat to have the fresh version available, if only for a short time. In addition to the aforementioned fiber offering, plums provide vitamins A, C and K; copper, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Like most berries, black and raspberries are phytochemical powerhouses. They’re packed with flavonoids, including anthocyanin, ellagic acid, quercetin and catechins, among others. Add to this list plenty of fiber, vitamins C, E and K and minerals copper, iron and manganese. Blackberries offer bonus nutrients in the form of zinc and vitamin A.
These red, and sometimes green, gems provide vitamins A, B-6, C and K; minerals manganese and potassium; phytochemicals lycopene and zeaxanthin. The lycopene in tomatoes is one of those rare instances in which the nutrient is more concentrated when cooked as opposed to when raw. But, we have plenty of opportunities to get cooked tomatoes no matter the month. Fresh, raw tomatoes are such a gift in-season, they shouldn’t be ignored.
As the name suggests, this melon is chock full of refreshing water, perfect for the dog days of summer. They also have copper and vitamins A and C. Watermelon offers carotenes and flavonoids, including more lycopene than is found in raw tomatoes. Interestingly, lycopene fortifies the skin against UV rays and, as such, is believed to provide skin cancer protection. And two of the fruits most ubiquitous in summer (tomatoes and watermelon) contain lots of it. Coincidence? I think not!
While its green counterpart, zucchini, arrives early on, yellow squash harvests throughout the heart of summer. Hence its alternative name, summer squash. Some also call it by its shape descriptive name, crooked-neck squash. Whatever your preferred name, this squash contains fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, iron and carotenes. But it’s especially high in the B-vitamin complex, vitamin B-6 in particular.
Vitamin A: Antioxidant promotes immunity function and eye, skin & red blood cell health (fat-soluble)
Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin): Promotes brain function, regulates energy levels
Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin): Aids energy production
Vitamin B-3 (Niacin): Promotes blood health, regulates cholesterol
Vitamin B-5 (Pantothenic Acid): Promotes healthy hormone response
Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine): Promotes healthy blood vessels
Vitamin B-9 (Folate): Necessary for healthy blood cells & fetal development
Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts immunity
Vitamin E: Antioxidant promotes healthy skin & eyes and boosts immunity (fat soluble)
Vitamin K: Important in protein absorption for healthy blood and bones (fat-soluble)
Copper: Antioxidant promotes healthy blood and eye, brain, skin and bone tissue
Iron: Antioxidant necessary for blood health
Manganese: Antioxidant important in bone health and blood sugar regulation
Molybdenum: For healthy enzyme function
Phosphorus: Promotes healthy bones, digestion and hormone regulation
Potassium: An electrolyte that assists in controlling blood pressure
Silica: For healthy connective tissue throughout the body
Zinc: Antioxidant needed for healing and healthy skin
Other Nutrients & Nutrient Types
Antioxidants: Class of nutrients that reduce inflammation and repair cell damage by absorbing free radicals throughout the body. Free radicals are released (oxidized) when cells are damaged due to poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, inhaling or ingesting pollutants and toxins, sun damage, the aging process and infections from viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Electrolytes: Ions (electrically charged molecules) that exist in all bodily fluids; necessary to maintain cell balance
Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E & K need to be consumed with dietary fats in order to be absorbed by the body. Once absorbed, they’re metabolized slowly and, therefore, last longer in body’s systems. All other vitamins are water-soluble, readily absorbed and metabolized quickly and, therefore, need to be replenished daily.
Fiber: Technically not a nutrient but essential for digestive health & an aid in weight control
Phytochemicals/Phytonutrients: Powerful antioxidants found in small amounts in most plant-based foods. Over 25,000 individual phytonutrients have been identified thus far and many are sub-divided into categories such as phytoestrogens, carotenes and polyphenolics. The largest category of phytochemicals are known as flavonoids:
- Anthocyanin: anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial
- Carotene (Alpha & Beta): convert to vitamin A; anti-aging & eye health
- Catechins: flavonoid showing anti-cancer promise
- Cryptoxanthin: anti-inflammatory carotene
- Ellagic Acid: non-human studies show promise of anti-cancer properties
- Epicatechin: flavonoid may lessen risk for heart disease, diabetes & cancer
- Lutein: carotene for eye health
- Lycopene: anti-UV ray properties, prostate health
- Quercitin: heart & respiratory anti-inflammatory flavonoid
- Zeaxanthin: carotene for eye health
Sources: visualnews.com, wisebread.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Harvard.edu, WebMD