June 18, 2013
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Seasonal Super Foods

One of the best things about this time of year is the great variety of produce that hits the shelves.  Crates of fresh crops are coming to your grocery store or farmers’ market on a daily basis. Fruits are bright and tempting and vegetables are crisp and colorful.

To make the most out of this seasonal harvest, make an effort to take a bite out of all of it. Each plant offers different nutritional benefits, so to achieve optimal health, your body should have as great a variety as you can manage. Even the nutritional powerhouses, like Vitamin C or A, need small amounts of other micronutrients to efficiently produce their desired effects on the body.

That said, there are a handful of fruits and vegetables that come into season in the early summer that offer such amazing nutritional benefits that they should make your grocery list every week. Read on for a list of seasonal super foods that are as delicious as they are nutritious.

Greens (such as Swiss Chard, Kale, and Spinach)
Summer greens are true nutritional powerhouses. They pack a major punch when it comes to minerals like iron (which helps to maintain muscle mass), calcium (which helps that muscle mass function efficiently and gives strength to fragile bones), and potassium (which, among other things, helps your brain to function by aiding in neurotransmitter signal transmissions). There are few other natural sources that can boast such nutritional value. These greens are also a major source for vitamins like C, E, K and some B’s. People are pretty familiar with what vitamin C and E do for the body, but less familiar about the things that vitamin K and those in the B family do.

Vitamin K is a highly under-appreciated nutrient that protects our bones and minimizes the inflammatory effects of diseases like arthritis. It regulates the blood clotting process and may prevent the hardening of the arteries that is caused by plaque accumulation.

The B vitamins play a starring role in the process that controls how your body uses food as energy. In essence, they increase the speed of your metabolism, and thus give you a higher energy return for your caloric intake. They are also important to the process of making red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the rest of the body. A low red blood cell count means that the body is less able to get oxygen to the cells that need it to function, and thus less able to work at its maximum capacity. Eating a daily dose of leafy greens should help you defend against any B vitamin deficiencies that could sap you of the energy you will need to keep up with your planned summer adventures.

Berries (such as Strawberries, Boysenberries, and Currants)
One of the most wonderful seasonal summer offerings is the varied assortment of fresh berries. They are so juicy and delicious, you almost don’t need to know any of the health benefits to find an excuse to pop a handful of them in your mouth. However, their health enhancing qualities are too potent and too numerous to be overlooked.

In general, when you are looking to get the best nutritional bang for your buck, you should pick up produce that is exceptionally colorful. There are few items in your grocer’s produce section that rival berries for their color. That color is the reason that berries have such impressive nutritional value. Anthocyanins, as they are scientifically called, belong to a group of potent antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, and they are present in almost every berry you can buy. These antioxidants have been shown to protect your body against everything from neuronal impairment to macular degeneration. Recent studies have even shown evidence that the antioxidants found in berries may be able to slow the reproduction of cancerous cells. And all berries possess these incredible health maintaining attributes.

Each individual berry possesses its own unique health benefits, as well, so you should try all of them throughout the season. For example, blueberries, among other things, have recently been shown to be advantageous in the regeneration of brain cells, which may slow the effect that aging has on our cognitive brain function. Raspberries contain an important phytochemical, which helps to keep bacterial and fungal levels in our body within manageable ranges. Cranberries have been well documented in their ability to ward off bladder infections and the extract from black currants has an amazing ability to counteract the spread of the flu virus after it enters your body.

Watermelon
Most of us think of watermelon as a wonderfully sweet and refreshing summer favorite, but not necessarily a nutritional super food.  Well, believe it or not, the juicy treat we have all enjoyed since childhood is actually one of the most nutritionally valuable foods we can eat. It is a great source of antioxidants and potassium, which together can work to decrease your chances of heart attack and stroke. It contains a compound called citrulline that works to help your body eliminate ammonia waste that builds up in your body.  Watermelon gets its vibrant red color from a phytochemical called lycopene. Lycopene has been documented to dramatically reduce the occurrence of certain cancers.

Cabbage
One last piece of produce to pick up from your local farmstand this summer is cabbage.  Cabbage contains a compound called ascorbigen that can effectively treat ulcers or prevent them altogether. In addition, it is a cruciferous vegetable, like broccoli, so its tissue contains something called glycosides. The body converts these compounds into incredibly effective cancer preventers called ally-isothiocyanates (AITC), which fight bladder, prostate and colon cancer. In fact, studies have shown that regular consumption of these nutrients can cut your risk of colon cancer by up to sixty percent!

This is by no means a complete list of the spring and summer fruits and veggies that offer amazing health benefits.  No matter which crisp, colorful, nutrient-rich produce you pile onto your plate, keep in mind that your body will feel better, look younger, and probably last much longer if you savor the bounty of this rich growing season.