HEALTHY LIVING
08/22/2015 09:10 am ET

The 8 Best Produce Picks For Late Summer

Now's the time to load up on tomatoes, figs, blackberries and more fresh fruit.

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Despite the fact that some kids are back in school and it's getting dark earlier, summer is not over. And while the sun's still shining, remember: Summertime is synonymous with delicious and abundant fresh produce.

Though you can get most of these fruits and vegetables year-round, now is the time to take advantage of the peak flavor, freshness and nutrition you'll get by eating in season. Since they're so abundant in your local area right now, these fruits and vegetables will likely be less expensive, too.

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Tomatoes. Ripened in the hot summer sun, tomatoes are brimming with concentrated flavor this time of year. With so much flavor, fresh summer tomatoes can stand on their own or with a drizzle of olive oil and your favorite seasonings. Enjoy fresh tomatoes over pasta or "zoodles," combine with fresh goat cheese and herbs or liven up a green salad with a touch of acidity and sweetness. You can't bottle up the unique flavor of fresh tomatoes, so get them now.

Sweet corn. There's nothing quite like the flavor of sweet corn. Sweet corn loses flavor and sweetness each day it's separated from the stalk – so getting it from a local farm is key. Keep it cool, and eat it as soon as possible after purchase. Sweet corn is a source of fiber, vitamin A and lutein, a key nutrient for healthy eyesight. Enjoy it right from the cob, tossed into a salad or as the base for a sweet and crunchy salsa.

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Okra. Technically a fruit, this little green pod is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of magnesium, folate and soluble fiber to help keep your heart healthy. With a unique grassy flavor, okra can be used to thicken soups and stews, and it stands well on it's own simply roasted. Combine okra with tomatoes and corn for a flavorful end-of-summer succotash.

Peppers. Sweet peppers mature a little later in the season. Peppers are a great source of vitamin C and deliver savory flavor and crunch to summer salads, sandwiches and stir-fries. Make them the star of a gluten-free, vegetarian meal by stuffing with quinoa or rice, greens or beans and cheese.

Grapes. I'm happy to work with Grapes from California, which are in season now and bursting with flavor. Add grapes to your salads, sandwiches and more for a boost of flavor, texture and nutrition. Grapes are a natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols, and may contribute to a healthy heart by promoting relaxation of blood vessels to help maintain healthy blood flow and function.

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Blackberries. Though strawberries and blueberries are virtually done on the East Coast, blackberries are ripe for the picking well into September. Packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, one cup of blackberries delivers almost 8 grams of fiber with just 60 calories. They make a perfect snack, topper for yogurt or oats or base for a fruity baked dessert.

Fresh figs. This ancient fruit makes a debut early in the summer but comes back with an encore at the end. Chock full of fiber, figs are flavorful and nutrient rich. A tasty snack alone, figs can be caramelized or stewed with a little vanilla for even more flavor. Add fresh figs to arugula salad, and sprinkle with cheese for a sweet-tart experience that's sure to please.

Melons. Sweet, refreshing honeydew melon, watermelon and cantaloupe take a long time to ripen, but they're ripe and ready to eat right now. Enjoy them fresh from the rind, by the chunk in salads, grilled, frozen into pops or pureed into fruity drinks.

Once you add these to your plate, you won't want the summer to end. Luckily, many of these foods can be kept. Cut okra, corn, blackberries and grapes are perfect in the freezer, while tomatoes are best canned. Get creative with melons. Blend them into ice pops with fresh basil or mint and a bit of honey or sugar to enjoy fresh fruit pops later in the year.

Everything has a season. Bring home the best of the summer season now. Before long, you'll be drooling over pumpkin spice lattes on the way to the pumpkin patch!

The 8 Best Produce Picks For Late Summer was originally published on U.S. News & World Report. 

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