As summer ramps up, you’ll notice brighter colors and leafier greens popping up in the produce section of your grocery store. Those tomatoes, strawberries, watermelons and cucumbers will look and taste better than ever.
The abundance of heat-loving fruits and veggies make summer an opportune time to prioritize healthy eating and incorporate fresh ingredients into your favorite recipes. Nutritionists say variety is an important factor in a well-balanced diet rich with vitamins and minerals, which can lead to more energy, better skin and weight loss, among other positives.
No matter your health goal, this list of easy diet changes will help you take full advantage of ripe summer produce options.
Explore carb alternatives in the produce section.
Don’t pass up a power green! According to the Mayo Clinic, zucchini is low-calorie, fat-free, rich in vitamin C and stays in season until early fall in some areas. Plus, zucchini is extremely versatile and can replace the starchier ingredients in your favorite recipes, which can help improve blood sugars and energy levels.
Try replacing the high-carb pasta in your favorite dishes with zucchini noodles (also called “zoodles”). They come in grocery stores premade or you can buy a zoodle maker. Zucchini can also be chopped into fine pieces and baked into pizza crust.
Add fruit and herbs to your water.
As we all know, hydration is key to a safe summer. There are plenty of recipes out there for fruit and herb pairings to throw in your water to make those eight glasses per day more enticing. For example, add berries for extra vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, or mint and lemon for citric acid that helps with digestion.
Nothing screams “summer” like grilling by the pool. But for a healthy twist, ditch the steak and hamburgers for leaner proteins like fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating up to eight ounces of fish (a typical serving is three ounces) each week for better heart function. As a good rule of thumb, three ounces of fish is about the size of a deck of cards.
Snack on mini versions of fruits and veggies.
Vacation snacking is a common summer trap that can leave you with low energy and a few extra pounds. Carrying smaller versions of your favorite fruits and veggies will help you avoid reaching for the sodium-rich, sugary snacks close by.
Try mini bell peppers, cherry tomatoes or strawberries. Red bell peppers are especially high in antioxidants, packing 317% of your daily vitamin C, which supports skin health and may have anti-aging benefits. Reaching for fruits and veggies also increases your fiber intake and will keep you full longer.
Try lighter versions of your favorite summer recipes.
You don’t have to skip the potato salad or coleslaw at the family cookout. Instead, you can adjust the recipe to make it lighter. There are plenty of recipes that use mayo substitutes, like Italian dressing for pasta salad and potato salad or mashed avocado for chicken salad. Avoiding mayo will remove some unhealthy fats from your diet.
For more information, visit the QualChoice website to learn how you can make healthier choices this summer.
Dr. Lubna Maruf, M.D., is the Medical Director at QualChoice Health Insurance in Little Rock.