Enjoy summertime produce

Anita Marlay
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
Farmer holding wooden box full of fresh raw vegetables.

Fruit and vegetable consumption in America has continued to decline during the past 20 years, according to the “State of the Plate” report from the national nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation. The organization conducts surveys every five years to assess America’s fruit and vegetable intake trends. This year’s report shows that we are eating 10% less produce than in 2004.

Most people eat one or fewer servings of fruits or vegetables per day. The recommended goal is two to three cups of vegetables daily along with one to two cups of fruit, but 90% of Americans do not meet this goal.

Summer in the Midwest is the perfect time to work on adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Most fruits and vegetables are at their peak for flavor this time of year. Many people grow gardens, but if you don’t, farmers’ markets are abundant so anyone can take advantage of the wide variety of in-season produce.

Longer, hotter days filled with more activity cause us to crave lighter meals with more cold or room-temperature foods. Fruits and vegetables fill this desire perfectly. Here are some of the best to try this summer:

Watermelon is sweet and juicy, and its 90% water content makes it perfect to help rehydrate you on a hot summer day. It is also a good source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.

Cucumbers are high in water content but also contain essential electrolytes. Raw cucumbers are good as a crunchy snack or as a salad ingredient.

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated heart-healthy fats. They are high in fiber and potassium and low in carbs. Because they are mostly fat, they are filling. Besides the usual guacamole, try them in sandwiches, wraps and salads.

Tomatoes fresh off the vine are divine in the summertime. Load up on them while in season because they just don’t taste the same any other time. Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and lycopene. Add slices to your sandwich, chop up in salads, make some salsa or try a Caprese salad of tomatoes with mozzarella cheese, basil and balsamic vinegar.

Berries of all kinds are in season during the summer. Whether you prefer blueberries, blackberries, strawberries or raspberries, they are all rich in nutrients, antioxidants, polyphenols and fiber. Eat by the handful, or add to cereal, salads or desserts.

Cherries are also full of good nutrition. They provide anthocyanin, which helps lower blood pressure and decreases inflammation. Eating cherries regularly can help prevent gout flare-ups and improve arthritis symptoms.

Stone fruit, such as peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots, are naturally sweet and make a low-calorie dessert. They are high in fiber and beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, which is essential for eye health. Stone fruits are delicious in crisps or crumbles, but they are also delicious grilled. Chop and add to some salsa for a new flavor.

Leafy greens are a good choice for a cool summertime salad. They are a powerhouse of vitamins and fiber packed into few calories. Start with a big bowl of leafy greens, add your favorite veggies, fruit and protein, and you have a filling cool meal.

Corn gets a bad rap as a summertime vegetable with few nutrients. The truth is, it is a good source of fiber. It also has lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health. Plus, it’s delicious!

Any and all fruits and vegetables are good for you, even potatoes. Choose whole fruits instead of juice most of the time. If you can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, look for inexpensive frozen varieties that do not have any salt or sugar added. Experiment with the ones you like, and work them into your daily diet.

Now is a good time to make your drink healthier too. Ditch the sodas this summer, and make up a pitcher of iced tea. Tea is loaded with antioxidants, and green tea is an especially good source that even provides some sun protection. For a different flavor, add some mint. Mint leaves provide a cooling effect, help keep your breath fresh and calms upset stomachs. Crush and add to your tea, water, cocktails or salads. Bonus fact: Mint is super easy to grow.

Radish, Celery and Cucumber Salad

Serves 6

1 English cucumber, very thinly sliced

3 medium stalks celery, very thinly sliced

4 medium radishes, very thinly sliced

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp grated lemon zest

2 Tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ tsp flaky sea salt

¼ tsp ground pepper

Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk oil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Just before serving, drizzle the dressing over the salad. Sprinkle with lemon zest, cheese, salt and pepper. Garnish with celery leaves if desired.

Nutrition Information: 87 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g carbs, 2 g protein, 1 g fiber, 271 mg sodium

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.