Between the barbecues, the beers and the bon-bons being chucked at you from floats in your town's parade, the Fourth of July can be a bit of a wasteland when it comes to healthy eats.
But this is July! And summer is in full-swing! Which means there are tons of healthy fruits and vegetables bursting out of the ground, just begging to be eaten.
Here's 12 of the top July superfoods and -- because everything is better with a theme -- we've kept 'em all red, white and blue. For the most part.
Any high-summer nutritional superstars you can't believe we skipped? Let us know.
<strong>Why we love it:</strong> Sweet and juicy, watermelon just tastes like summer. On the health side of things, watermelon is rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect against cancer and heart problems, and boost the skin's natural SPF, according to Dr. Steven Pratt, author of "SuperFoods Rx" (via <a href="http://www.fitpregnancy.com/nutrition-recipes/prenatal-nutrition/watermelon-wonders" target="_hplink"><em>FitPregnancy</em></a>). <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> On a hot summer day, there's nothing better than just slicing up a watermelon and eating it as-is. Or sprinkle some with feta and mint in a sweet-yet-savory salad.
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> Tomatoes, like watermelons, are rich in at least one important carotenoid: "Tomatoes receive a lot of attention from nutritionists largely because of a phytonutrient called lycopene," the <em>New York Times</em> reports. "Studies have suggested that lycopene, which is contained in the red pigment, has antioxidant properties." This nutritious fruit is also a good source of vitamin E and niacin, among other things. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> While tomatoes are great fresh, these summertime staples are a key part of many (many) recipes. For something light and summery, try a <a href="http://www.kitchendaily.com/2011/07/07/happy-tomato-season-19-fresh-recipes/#photo-3" target="_hplink">tomato tart</a> or a <a href="http://www.kitchendaily.com/2011/07/07/happy-tomato-season-19-fresh-recipes/#photo-18" target="_hplink">grilled tomato gazpacho.</a>
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> The strawberry may be small, but it's a veritable nutrition powerhouse. "They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium," <a href="http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/nutritional-benefits-of-the-strawberry" target="_hplink">WebMD explains.</a> "Just one serving -- about eight strawberries -- provides more vitamin C than an orange." <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> In a fruit salad! Or a fruit tart! On top of icy-cold sorbet or blended with spinach in a sweet, green smoothie! When strawberries are at their peak, the options are virtually endless.
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> In addition to being a good source of vitamin K and magnesium, raspberries can promote satiety -- welcome news when you're trying to keep from overdoing it at the Fourth of July picnic. "Eating raspberries ... may help you maintain a healthy weight in several ways," <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/445571-what-are-the-health-benefits-of-raspberries-and-blueberries/" target="_hplink">Livestrong reports.</a> "[They] are rich in insoluble fiber that provides a sense of fullness, which may prevent you from overeating." <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> Raspberries are great in desserts (think tarts or crisps) or preserved in a jam. Summer is also a great time to try a chilled raspberry soup.
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> "Lychees are low in calories -- only 63 in 10 average-sized fresh ones, which also provide about 69 milligrams of vitamin C, more than you would get in a small orange or half a grapefruit," <a href="http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA365091" target="_hplink">according to Dr. Andrew Weil,</a> founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a HuffPost blogger. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> On <a href="http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA365091" target="_hplink">his blog,</a> Weil recommends getting them fresh, if at all possible, and popping them in the fridge as soon as you get home. He also suggests freezing them and then enjoying them almost as if they're a sweet, icy sorbet.
<strong>Why we love it:</strong> When it comes to heart health, garlic is a good bet, according to recent studies. At least one has found that eating garlic can up our natural supply of a chemical that helps relax blood vessels and increase flow, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20071015/why-garlic-is-good-for-you" target="_hplink">according to WebMD. </a>And that means it may play a role in reducing heart disease risk. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> It seems like there are only a handful of savory recipes that <em>don't</em> call for garlic. For slightly less intense flavor, <a href="http://www.ehow.com/how_2129323_roast-garlic-grill.html" target="_hplink">try roasting garlic on the grill,</a> which can result in a "smoky" or more "mellow" taste.
<strong>Why we love it:</strong> Jicama, a crisp, white root vegetable, is a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. It's also high in potassium and water. In fact,<a href="http://www.fitsugar.com/Chip-Substitute-Jicama-231554" target="_hplink"> as FitSugar explains, </a>the veggie -- sometimes called the "Mexican potato" -- is made up of almost 90 percent H2O. How to enjoy: <a href="http://www.fitsugar.com/Chip-Substitute-Jicama-231554" target="_hplink">FitSugar recommends</a> peeling jicama and slicing it into rods, then using them as an alternative to chips and dipping 'em in salsa. Jicama is also good in slaw -- another summer picnic staple.
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> <a href="http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/White-Peaches" target="_hplink"><em>Saveur</em> magazine</a> doesn't hold back when extolling the many taste-related pros of white peaches, calling them "one of summer's great sensual delights." Need more? "Eating good white peaches is the real thing -- a rare experience," <a href="http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/White-Peaches" target="_hplink">that magazine proclaims.</a> Nutritionally, white peaches are high in dietary fiber and very high in vitamin C. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> When they're at their peak, and they are this month, white peaches are delicious fresh, sliced in a fruit salad or on top of yogurt for breakfast or a healthy mid-day pick-me-up.
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> Blueberries are probably the mother of all blue superfoods, with health benefits that run the gamut. <a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/ar/archive/mar08/fruit0308.htm" target="_hplink">The United States Department of Agriculture</a> puts them in a category of "antioxidant superstars," saying they "are one of the most-heralded antioxidant-rich fruits." So much so that <a href="http://www.oprah.com/health/Dr-Ozs-Ultimate-Anti-Aging-Checklist/3" target="_hplink">Dr. Oz has called them</a> one of his favorite anti-aging foods. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> Blueberries are delicious in baked goods (we're thinking pies, scones and muffins, to name a few), but they're also great in smoothies or even just tossed into a <a href="http://www.marthastewart.com/275045/blueberry-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide#/264007" target="_hplink">refreshing glass of lemonade.</a>
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> Blackberries are also bursting with antioxidants, which have anti-aging effects. And they've also got plenty of dietary fiber. It's not just the sweet, juicy part of the fruit that bestows health benefits: <a href="http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/the-nutrition-of-blackberries.html" target="_hplink">According to FitDay,</a> the seeds in blackberries provide a bit of polyunsaturated fats, which can help improve heart health. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> First thing's first: When selecting blackberries to eat, go for ones that are dark and plump (so, the bluer ones in this image, not the smaller red ones). Like blueberries, they're yummy in baked goods (cobbler!), fruit salads or atop yogurt, maybe with some chopped-up walnuts.
<strong>Why we love them:</strong> Figs have plenty of vitamins A and B6, as well as thiamin, which can help the body convert carbs into energy. They're also a good source of <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dietaryfiber.html" target="_hplink">dietary fiber,</a> which makes you feel fuller faster and can help with digestion. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> If you've been tasked with bringing something to a party, why not try figs wrapped in prosciutto with blue cheese as a (slightly decadent) hors d'oeuvres?
<strong>Why we love it:</strong> "Eggplant is a low-carb, nutrient-dense, calorie-poor food, meaning that it contains high levels of nutrients, but not a lot of calories or carbohydrates," <em>Shape</em> magazine explains. <strong>How to enjoy:</strong> Eggplant is a good meat alternative, delicious when cooked on the grill. <a href="http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/series/recipes_for_health/eggplant/index.html" target="_hplink"><em>The New York Times</em></a> recommends eating it with the skin on, explaining that it contains eggplant's "most valuable nutrient, a powerful antioxidant called nasunin."