Despite the back-to-school buzz, summer is not over. There is still plenty of time to capture the fresh flavors and nutritional benefits of the season.
“We have the greatest variety of fruits and vegetables in summer,” said Laura Barr, nutrition and wellness educator, University of Illinois Extension. “Take advantage of the bounty and make healthy combinations at every meal.”
For example, pairing herbs and spices with vegetables is a wonderful way to train your palette for less salt, Barr said. “We need a bit of salt for fluid balance and heart function. However, the American diet is unnecessarily saturated with sodium,” she said. “Herbs and spices add flavor without extra sodium.”
Go savory with onion, garlic, cumin, dill, chili powder, pepper and paprika. Go sweet with cinnamon, nutmeg, basil, lavender, lemon balm and mint. Medium strength flavors are basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley.
Now also is the time to enjoy melons, tomatoes, berries, sweet corn, eggplant, bell peppers and zucchini.
“Buying fresh and local is easy this time of year,” Barr said. “During fall and winter, buy frozen or canned. The more you eat these nutrient-dense foods, the better health you will enjoy.”
Nutrition professionals recommend consuming deep orange and dark greens daily.
Carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin provide vitamin A, which is good for eyesight and helps the body resist infection. Dark green vegetables contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, which reduce inflammation and have anti-carcinogenic effects.
“It is good to eat a variety of colors to achieve the best health benefits,” said Barr. “Fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables, the more colorful the better. Every part of the spectrum provides different health benefits.”
Blue and purple berries, cabbage, and plums have strong antioxidant properties, which may reduce inflammation and pain. White produce, like bananas and potatoes, are good sources of potassium, which is good for heart and kidney function. Cauliflower, mushrooms, ginger and onions are immune function boosters and may decrease risk of chronic disease.
“On a larger scale, eight to 12 servings of fruit and vegetables may reduce incidence of cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline,” said Barr. “They truly are super-foods.”
University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems. For more information on University of Illinois Extension programs in your county, visit go.illinois.edu/extensiondkk.