Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD
Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Cleveland Clinic Sports Health
Many of us, especially athletes, have our staple meals and snacks that we turn to on a daily basis to fuel us through exercise and the day-to-day grind. Keeping meals and snacks consistent is a good way to stabilize energy levels and maintain digestion, but as the seasons change so does the temperature and availability of many foods, likes fruits and vegetables.
There is no need to change the blueprint of your meals as far as your distribution of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, but instead change the sources of these forms of energy. Just like it is important to have your oil changed to help your car run better, it is a great idea to change up the components of meals to maximize your vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake.
With cool spring mornings a thing of the past, swap your warm bowl of oatmeal for a refreshing yogurt parfait or smoothie. Choose a yogurt of your choice for the base. I recommend a plain Greek yogurt in order to skip the added sugar from flavored versions and boost the protein to keep you full and help maintain your energy throughout the morning. Go for non-fat or 0-percent fat if you are watching overall calories or limiting saturated fat. Next, layer on colorful fruits. Fruits are "functional foods" because they not only provide nutrients our bodies need, but they also contain phytonutrients, components of plant-based foods that illicit positive health benefits. The more colors you choose the more nutrients you will consume.
Let's go through the rainbow of seasonal summer fruits:
Red/pink: cherries, grapefruit, grapes, nectarine, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon. Grapefruit and watermelon are excellent sources of lycopene which has been shown to have heart and prostate protective benefits. Berries, cherries and grapes contain anthocyanins, which research has shown can decrease post exercise muscle damage and may help support brain health.
Orange: apricots, cantaloupe, peaches. Orange fruits are a rich source of beta-carotene, which helps to boost our bodies antioxidant defense by neutralizing damaging free radicals.
Green: grapes, honeydew, limes. Grapes are packed with a variety of flavonoids that promote heart health and enhance antioxidant defense.
Blue: blueberries. Blueberries are one the most nutrient-dense foods you can choose because they contain five classes of phytonutrients that offer antioxidant and antinflammatory benefits.
Purple: blackberries, plums. Blackberries contain many of the same phytonutrients as blueberries. Plums are high in vitamin C. Adequate intake of vitamin C is important all year around, so keep plums on your grocery list this summer.
Other great "functional food" additions to your summer meals are nuts and seeds. Almonds and walnuts are praised for providing heart healthy fats which offer heart protective benefits, but the truth is all nuts contain heart healthy fat, not to mention protein and fiber. Be outrageous and try pecans, pistacios, peanuts, or macadamia nuts! Ground flaxseed is a great staple to incorporate in a healthy diet as a source of omega 3 fats and soluble fiber, but chia and hemp seeds are two types to consider. Chia seeds are also a source of omega-3 fat and fiber, but one tablespoon has more protein, calcium and iron than flaxseed. Plus, they can be eaten whole or ground, while flaxseed has to be ground. Hemp seeds' perk is that they are a plant-based complete protein source, meaning they contain all essential amino acids, which many plant-based protein sources lack.
Vegetables are also "functional foods" that are in prime season. All vegetables offer the same positive health benefits as fruits do. Summer is the time to transition from roasting vegetables in the oven and adding them to soups, to picking veggies straight from the garden to eat raw, grill, add to salads, sandwiches, grain or bean salads, or even use in cold soups like gazpacho. If you are like most Americans who choose vegetables as the smallest portion on your plate, I urge you to make an effort to revamp your summer meals to incorporate more fresh vegetables.
Here are some ways to add in vegetables
o Add raw green leafy lettuce (spinach, baby kale, parsley), carrots, beets to smoothies
o Add any fresh vegetable to omelets
o Add raw veggies to sandwiches, wraps
o Pack side salad or raw veggies instead of chip or pretzels
o Add extra vegetables to pasta, potato, or grain salads
o Throw veggies on the grill with your preferred protein source
o Load kebobs with more vegetables than meat
o Try a cold vegetable soup as a side dish
Before you head to your local grocery store or farmers market, I recommend planning a few new meals that incorporate functional foods and make a list accordingly. Choosing a variety of new and seasonal foods can help keep you happy and healthy all summer long.