Summer Favorites – Melons and Berries

There are plenty of reasons to love the months of June through August, from the opportunities to enjoy some vacation air away from home, to the quiet evenings on the lawn enjoying slurpy fruits, with little worry about their dripping juices.

At home or away, melons and berries can’t be beat, with their vibrant colors, high water content, and sweet/tart taste appeal. Because so many of these foods are available in super-markets all year, we, in our busy, hurried lives sometimes forget what treasures these foods are, especially when they are “in-season,” making them plentiful, reasonably priced, easier to find locally grown, and extra delicious, and, perhaps most importantly, more nutrient dense.

Let’s Talk about Melons. 

Summer is the season to be surrounded by them. Most varieties reach their nutrient-packed peak of perfection right around this time of year, making their luscious, sweet, and juicy flavor the summer perfect summer snack. In general, melons are low in sodium, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.  They are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and copper, and a very good source of vitamin C and vitamin B6. They are naturally diuretics, so a good choice for anyone who tends to retain water.

To Name a Few:

  • Watermelon has recently moved to the front of the line in recent studies on high-lycopene foods, clued by the red flesh. Lycopene is especially important for our cardiovascular and bone health.  Lycopene is also helpful in reducing the risk of prostate, beast, and endometrial cancers, as well as lung and colon cancer.
  • Cantaloupe is an excellent source of Vitamins A, B6 and C, and potassium. It’s also a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, and thiamine. These nutrients are beneficial for improving endurance, healthy kidney and spleen function, and for lowering blood pressure.
  • Honeydew melons are full of vitamin C, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and copper. These nutrients are helpful in maintaining optimum health as well as weight loss.
  • Crenshaw incorporates a dose of fiber, Vitamin C, iron, and calcium to your daily diet.  At just 40 calories per serving they can be paired as a side dish to any well-balanced meal.

Choosing Well

Finding the right melon can sometimes be a difficult task. Who hasn’t been disappointed on occasion when carving into what looked in the store like a fine piece of fruit? Keep in mind that the longer melon ripens on the vine, the sweeter it will be. Again, here is the beauty of buying in-season, locally grown produce.

When shopping, gently tap the side of the melon with your hand with your ears close by. A high pitched, dry tone indicates an under-ripe melon.  A monotone, dead thud indicates and over-ripe melon.  A deep-pitched tone indicates a melon that is ripe.  Also, smell the stem or other end of the melon, seeking a slightly sweet aroma.  (Practice – the discernment gets easier.)

And, OH, the Berries!

There isn’t a pill on the planet that does a better job of helping you to feel satisfied, lose weight, and prevent disease as these gems of “nature’s candy.” What makes berries so special is their high level of phytochemicals – naturally occurring nutrients that help protect cells from damage. Especially high in anti-oxidant levels, they account for many health benefits, including better cognitive health, cancer prevention and lowered blood pressure.

Berries are superstars when it comes to their vitamin and mineral content. A cup of strawberries, for example, rivals an orange in its vitamin C content, and berries, in general are rich in folate, beta-carotene, lycopene. They are also rich in dietary fiber, calcium and some natural pro-biotics.

They have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to protect aging bodies from disease, and should be high on the list of foods to include in an anti-inflammatory  lifestyle for both prevention and chronic disease management.

Each variety of berry also brings a unique blend of health-building ingredients.

  • Blueberries, currently the most talked about, in part because of its very high anti-oxidant content, also tout anthocyanidins, which may slow and even reverse age-related mental decline, as well as lessen brain damage inflicted by stroke. Their pterostilbene fights cancer, and with the soluble fiber pectin, helps to reduce cholesterol levels. Blueberries also benefit night vision and can help treat diarrhea and constipation.
  • Blackberries are rich in vitamin E, which promotes a healthy heart and good circulation. They also boost the blood and help prevent anemia, and contain aspirin-like compounds, salicylates, which are thought to lower the risk of heart problems. With a high tannin content, blackberries have some astringent power, so they help to neutralize excessive acid in the body, helping to relieve joint pains. As well, they help sore throats and chesty coughs, and help to clear diarrhea and urinary tract infections.
  • Raspberries share in health-boosting benefits of other berries, and boast of their ellagic acid, an antioxidant phytonutrients which may help prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Their anthocyanidins have antimicrobial properties and can prevent the overgrowth of certain fungi and bacteria in the body, such as the yeast candida albicans, which causes thrush. Raspberries are good for indigestion, can help alleviate diarrhea, and are effective for menstrual and menopausal problems.
  • Strawberries. Fairly early in my 9 years of health coaching, I wrote a piece about this magnificent food. See it here. These berries share many of the same disease-fighting properties as raspberries which combat carcinogens, ease arthritis and asthma, and keep the urinary tract and heart healthy.   Their high levels of fiber are good for cleansing the digestive system and can reduce the risk of intestinal disorders a well as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

Both melons and berries come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and textures. Enjoy a variety of them, particularly during the summer months when they are available locally, and are likely to have ripened well connected to the earth. Better flavor, more nutrients.  Enjoy all the benefits!

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