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This Summer’s Healthiest (and Yummiest!) Foods

Summer brings the long awaited school vacation, warm weather and an amazing variety of fresh produce in season, which gives you the perfect excuse to throw on your cutest sundress and plan a trip to your local farmers market or grocery to see what nature has to offer.  Read on for the healthy produce that is especially delicious in the summertime, and how you can easily incorporate these foods into your diet!

Berries are one of the best things that come in season during the summer months, meaning you can get more, better quality berries for less money. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries will all be making their appearance this summer!

Strawberries, like other varieties of berries, are known for their anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins serve as an antioxidant to help protect your body from free radical damage (which can come from the sun. Make sure you wear sunscreen!).  Berries are often touted as an anti-inflammatory and anti- cancer food, not to mention that one cup of strawberries will provide 136% of your daily value of vitamin C. Some of the best ways to eat berries are raw in a fruit salad, with yogurt, in smoothies or on pancakes. Remember that berries expire quickly! They should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten within a few days.
Cucumbers provide a crisp and cool relief from summer heat. They have a high vitamin C content and are good for soothing irritated skin (notice how many facial products contain cucumber). This vegetable also contains silica which helps keep connective tissue healthy while you’re swimming, biking, and playing tennis this summer.  Additionally, since cucumber has such high water content, it helps keep skin radiant and glowing.Cucumbers can be used in the kitchen in a multitude of ways. Slice them into a salad or cous cous, or you could make a tzatziki dip.  If you like to make your own sushi, chop them like matchsticks for a vegetarian filling. The structure of a cucumber slice is also optimal for using it as a dipper instead of a chip. To choose a good cucumber, avoid vegetables with soft spots; the skin should be medium green to dark green in color. To keep them around as long as possible store in the vegetable bin in the fridge.

We often take lettuce for granted since it’s always in the store, but summer is the natural season for it to be produced so expect better flavor. There are many varieties of lettuce like Bibb, Butter head and Romaine. Bibb lettuce has almost a velvet sheen and is optimal for wrapping around a filling. Restaurants like P.F. Chang’s have followed this trend with their chicken wraps. Romaine lettuce is the variety usually found in salads. Two cups of Romaine lettuce has 143-percent of your daily value of vitamin K, which helps your blood clot if you accidentally scrape yourself, as well as 58-percent of your daily value of vitamin A, which helps protect your bones from fractures.  To prepare a salad, be sure to rinse well since soil likes to hide between leaves. Dry the leaves or spin dry with a salad spinner and chop. Store any extra in the refrigerator. Keep in mind; even though lettuce is most often eaten raw, you can also add it to a stir-fry.
Corn is a good source of pantothenic acid (a type of B vitamin), which will help you when you’re stressed out with your summer internship.  It also contains thiamin, which is critical for cognitive function. Like other yellow/orange vegetables, corn is full of carotenoids that reduce your risk of certain cancers. If you’ve never shucked your own corn, now is your chance. Farmers and grocers often keep fresh corn in its husk with the silk still on. Corn can be roasted on the grill, sliced onto a Cobb salad or tossed in with a potato salad. When buying corn, be sure the husks look fresh and green. They should cover the ear of corn closely, not hanging off of the body, and the kernels should be plump.

Summer Squash
Summer squash is a category that contains several varieties of squash, which are different in color and size. Squashes are high in fiber, which helps to keep cancer-causing cells out of the body.  Vitamin C and beta-carotene are anti-inflammatory and are helpful for fighting asthma. Since this is their peak season, it’s okay to stock up now and freeze the rest for a quick side dish (pre-slice or chop them and freeze in a container or zip bag). While it may seem like a good idea to pick up the biggest squash you can find at the market, hold back! When these vegetables get big, they are tough and seedy on the inside. Instead, pick smaller to medium sized zucchini and squash with a smooth outer surface, free of blemishes.  Squash are a fast fix since the entire vegetable is edible.
Herbs offer low calorie flavoring to many dishes. They provide a good alternative to salt or pepper with the added bonus of extra vitamin A and K to your diet, the benefits of which are described above. Herbs like basil or parsley can be chopped for salads or added to omelets. If you’re feeling especially crafty in the kitchen, you could try your hand at making homemade pesto, which is delicious with a good whole grain bread. Buying fresh, as opposed to dried, herbs will also make your kitchen smell amazing!

One scent that brings me immediately to summer is that of a sun-ripened tomato. Lycopene is one of the fantastic antioxidants found in tomatoes that help in cancer prevention and cell protection. Studies have also shown that lycopene is helpful in preventing heart disease. Tomatoes can be served raw in a salad with mozzarella and basil or cooked to make a spaghetti sauce. My absolute favorite dish for tomatoes is a gazpacho, or cold tomato soup with an oil and vinegar base. When picking tomatoes, look for those that are deep red and free of bruises or soft spots. Keep them out of the refrigerator, storing at room temperature. With all of the chopping you’ll be doing after you pick up these delicious additions, remember that all produce leftovers that can be used to start a compost pile in your yard. This is an eco-friendly alternative to tossing it into the garbage, which will give you  nutrient-rich soil to grow your own vegetables! 
Strawberries, World’s Healthiest Foods

Cucumbers, World’s Healthiest Foods
Lettuce, World’s Healthiest Foods

Tomatoes, World’s Healthiest Foods

Basil, World’s Healthiest Foods

Summer Vegetables, Healthy Eating Made Easy

Vitamin K, World’s Healthiest Foods

Corn, World’s Healthiest Foods

Summer Squash, World’s Healthiest Foods

Gaspacho Recipe, Epicurious

Pesto Recipe, Food Network

Carlene Helble is a senior dietetics major and family studies minor at James Madison University. She is the '10-'11 President of JMU's student dietetics association and the school's student council liaison to the American Dietetics Association. Carlene is also the weekend food blogger for All Access Internships and writes for Balanced Health and Nutrition, the Elite Nutrition blog. Originally from Loudoun County, Virginia, she has a passion for cooking (especially French Macarons), entertaining, pilates, and enjoying the beautiful outdoors. Classic fashions are her favorite and she never goes anywhere without a monogram. After graduation Carlene hopes to obtain a spot in a dietetic internship to learn more about clinical dietetics, pediatrics, and continue writing about food.
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