July marks the beginning of the peak summer-to-fall harvest season. It’s a prime opportunity to get the most iconic of summer foods at their very best. Here are our top-five picks to add to your shopping basket this month. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is a key way to eat better no matter what diet, eating plan or health goals you have, so go ahead and overload.
“Cool as a cucumber” isn’t just a clever saying. Cucumbers contain high amounts fiber and water, both of which contribute to healthy digestion and give them a cooling effect. Technically a gourd and in the same family as pumpkins and watermelon, they’re also loaded with a slew of B vitamins, which are thought to aid in easing feelings of anxiety or stress.
Shave them lengthwise and roll up the thin slices with salad ingredients for a hand-held snack. Cut them into a small dice and toss with dressing for an easy relish over grilled meats or whirl and strain them with mint and a pinch of sweetener for a refreshingly cool drink.
READ MORE > SALMON CUCUMBER ROLLS
Tough and flavorless out-of-season green beans have given these veggies a bad name. July is the beginning of their natural season in much of the U.S. and Europe. Fresh, local green beans are tender and come with a vibrant snap and a clean, grassy flavor that explains why anyone bothered to eat them in the first place. Every 1/2 cup of these green giants contains 2 grams of fiber and a mere 10 calories.
Steam beans and serve them with a pat of butter or a few fresh herbs to appreciate their delicate flavor. While many like their beans crisp-tender, cooking them until they’re fully tender mellows their flavor and gives them time to soak in any flavors from a sauce or herbs. Green beans pair well with fellow summer veggies corn and tomatoes — try them together in salads, tossed with pasta or cooked into a summer vegetable medley.
While it’s still on the stalk, corn is like pure sugar. Once it’s picked, it immediately starts to convert into starch, so the freshest corn is truly the best. Corn kernels are loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that promote healthy vision, and 1/2 cup contains just 30 calories. Sweet corn is also high in vitamins B1 and B5, vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese, folate and a whole lot of dietary fiber with 5 grams in every 1/2 cup serving.
Coat ears in a bit of low-fat mayo before grilling. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and a splash of soy sauce. Or cut the kernels from the cob and sautée with a handful of fresh thyme leaves and a pat of butter. The freshest of fresh corn can be cut from the cob and tossed — gloriously raw — in summer salads.
READ MORE > GRILLED ZUCCHINI CORN SALAD
There’s likely no other fruit (yes, they’re technically a fruit) that causes more frenzy at farmers markets than tomatoes. Tomatoes, especially the sun-ripened heirloom varieties that have exploded in popularity recently, are likely the most iconic of all summer produce. Beyond taste and versatility, they’re incredibly good for you. Tomatoes contain all four of the major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene. Each carotenoid (they protect against chronic diseases) has individual benefits but when found together, as in tomatoes, they’re incredibly healthful.
Slice them thick and serve poached eggs on top with a crack of fresh black pepper for a healthy twist on eggs Benedict, whirl them with cucumbers and a splash of vinegar for a quick take on gazpacho or cut into wedges and drizzle with good olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt for a simple side dish.
Watermelon is a surely a favorite treat for the dog days of summer. Sweet and juicy, it also has less than 50 calories per 1-cup serving and is fat-free and naturally low in sodium, making it as guilt-free a snack as any we can think of. Watermelons, which are 90% water, are also dripping with healthy nutrients, like vitamins A, B6 and C, with lots of lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids. And watermelon even has a touch of potassium.
Serve chunks of watermelon with tomatoes in your next Caprese salad, whirl and strain it with mint for a refreshing drink or freeze it to make ice cubes to drop in your sparkling water.