fruits in bowl

Beat the Heat: Fruits of Summer


By: Amy Chen

In the sizzling summer heat, getting adequate fluids and electrolytes is a must, but most people are not properly hydrated even in the cooler months. Dehydration hinders physical and cognitive performance, and during exercise we can sweat as much as 2.5 liters of water per hour. Excessive fluid loss through sweat can cause a loss of electrolytes potassium and sodium, which can impair the function of vital organs like the heart. Dehydration can also cause headaches, muscle cramping, problems concentrating, dizziness, irritability, and fainting. And dehydration combined with sweltering temperatures can lead to potentially fatal heat exhaustion.

The good news is electrolytes and even some fluids are readily available in foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. And the best part about summer is that it is easier than ever to get your minimum 5-A-Day of fresh produce. Summer offers a wider selection of ripe and juicy fruits and vegetables than any other season. In other words, eating your way to a healthy, fit body is as enjoyable as it is good for you. Here's a list of some in-season fruit to kick off your summer with a fresh and fruity splash.

Red, yellow or green, sweet or tart, crisp or mealy, no matter how you slice them, summer fresh  apples are a good source of fiber. The pectin in apples is a soluble fiber, which can help in the management of high cholesterol. And the skins of apples contain antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols, phytochemicals that can reduce free radical damage and help prevent oxidative diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Summer is the season for fresh figs. Fresh or dried, sweet figs are one of the highest fruit sources of fiber, and they also contain significant amounts of minerals potassium (great for replenishing losses in sweat), calcium, and iron. The rich color of tender, apricots gives away their rich content of beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). Beta-carotene and vitamin C both in apricots are antioxidant vitamins. Sun-sweetened apricots are also a good source of fiber and potassium. Tote a bag of apricots with you to the gym (along with your water bottle, of course) and enjoy them as convenient pre- or post-workout snacks.

Plums and peaches are ripe and ready these balmy months. Luscious peaches have beta-carotene and vitamin C as well as fiber. Purple and red plums have fiber and vitamin C, and the skins contain anthocyanidins, potent antioxidant phytochemicals. The berry family is in season and bursting with flavor. Strawberries, raspberriesblueberriesblackberries, huckleberries and more are high in fiber and vitamin C. The deep red and purple color of the berries also indicate the presence of the phytochemicals anthocyanadins. Cherries are another summer ripe fruit that contain these wholesome nutrients as well. The tropical mangoes and, papayas are irresistibly mouthwatering summer fruits. Succulent mangoes are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber. In fact, just half a mango has over 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A (as beta-carotene). Papaya is another rich source of beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber, and also contains potassium and folate. Folate prevents developmental defects in fetuses and supports cardiovascular health. And what would summer be without ice-cold, refreshing, watermelon. All the melons, including, cantaloupe, casaba, and honeydew, are summer fruits. Cantaloupe with its peachy-orange flesh is so rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, just _ of a medium cantaloupe has more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of both antioxidant vitamins. The casaba melon contains vitamin C and potassium, and the honeydew is a good source of vitamin C. Juicy watermelon is a rich source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, and a good source of lycopene. Lycopene, most popularized in tomato products, is an antioxidant carotenoid that has been shown to prevent prostate cancer. With so many delectable fruits to choose from, there is no reason not to get the minimum five servings a day. Fruits provide many nutrients, vitamins, and even some minerals that are essential for a healthy body.

Explore the wide variety of natural flavors at every meal and as refreshing snacks. For variety, blend fruits with ice, organic nonfat milk or phytonutrient rich soy milk, and garnish with a fresh mint leaf for a light and frothy thirst quencher. For a sweeter phytonutritious smoothie, blend fruit with vanilla flavored soy ice cream (available in health food stores) like Soy Dream or Tofutti. These tasty ice creams made from soy are much lower in saturated and total fat and calories than their dairy counterparts, are cholesterol free, and offer the various health benefits of soy. You can also blend fruit and filtered water or juice, freeze it in ice cube or popsicle trays, and enjoy them in the shade.

For quick and healthy snacks for the whole family, cut up a variety of summer fruits into a large bowl and keep it handy in the fridge. Add sliced fruit to fresh salads and heart healthy entrees like steamed fish, legumes and vegetables. Experiment with taste and texture with chopped fruits and nuts mixed into cooked, flavorful grains like wild rice and whole grain couscous. And if you enjoy sweet desserts, top them with fruit for added nutrition. Bring easy to carry fruits with you everywhere, to school, to work, to the gym, to the baseball game, to picnics and parties. At your picnics and barbecues, have a variety of colorful, sun-ripened fruit available to munch on instead of saturated fat and calorie dense potato or macaroni salad and chips.

With so many different fruits to choose from in the summer, you’ll never get bored with the delicious options. Summer is a great season to get started eating right and looking great. Drinking enough fresh water is absolutely necessary to keep your temperature regulated and your body functioning properly. A minimum of four liters of water per day is ideal, especially in hot weather. And if you exercise, be sure to drink several liters more depending on how much you sweat. In addition to drinking plenty of water, you can get the nutrients and electrolytes you need from the variety of potassium rich fruits and lightly salted nuts and seeds. This combination has the same electrolytes and fluids in expensive sugary sports drinks, but the natural combination is much higher in vitamins, minerals, and a host of other healthy compounds only available in whole foods. Sports drinks are convenient and do help to replenish fluid and electrolyte losses in intense exercise, but they are simply less nutritious than whole fruits and fresh water.

However, when it comes to avoiding dehydration, any fluid will suffice except for caffeine containing beverages, like coffee, tea, and soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics which cause the body to lose water and become dehydrated. If you’re sipping iced teas by the pool, be sure it is caffeine free. So whether you’re exercising or just trying to stay cool, there's nothing quite as tasty (and nutritious) as beating the heat with the thirst-quenching fruits of summer. And with the abundance of choices this season, every day this summer can be a savory experience.


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