From fresh fruits to sizzling vegetables, you'll love knowing that you're taking care of your body and your diabetes while feasting on the power foods of summer. Visit your local farmer's markets for the best in seasonal fare.
Related: 5-Day Diabetes Meal Plan for Summer
Refreshing, tasty, and hydrating, watermelon needs no dressing up to provide the nutrition and flavors we crave. Summertime is when watermelons are best in quality and price. Watermelons come in all shapes and sizes, and they have thick green rinds that are spotted or striped.
The inflammation-fighting antioxidants in watermelon may reduce risk of complications of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and arthritis. Watermelon is also high in vitamins C and A (in the form of beta-carotene) and the antioxidant lycopene, known for reducing risk of macular degeneration and prostate cancer. Potassium, which helps muscle and nerve function, regulation of the body's electrolyte and acid-base balance, and reduction of high blood pressure risk, is also a benefit from eating watermelon.
With about 92 percent of weight coming from water, watermelon also contributes to fluid intake -- especially important during warm weather. Even with its sweet taste, watermelon fits into a diabetic meal plan.
One cup of watermelon has 45 calories and 12 grams of carb. Most watermelons purchased in the West are grown in California and Arizona; Florida, Texas, and Georgia are also leading producer states.
Keep cool as a cucumber and include these versatile vegetables into your summer cuisine. One cup of sliced cucumbers has only 16 calories and 4 grams of carb. Florida and California provide cucumbers to the United States most of the year, with cucumbers from Mexico found in stores during the winter months. China is the largest producer of cucumbers, providing two-thirds of the global supply. Health benefits of cucumbers are numerous. The skins and seeds of cucumbers are rich in nutrients and higher than the flesh, so consuming the whole fruit is desirable.
Both conventional and organic cucumbers are often waxed. The only waxes used on organic cucumbers are nonsynthetic waxes, which must be free of chemical contaminants that are prohibited under organic regulations. Conventionally grown cucumbers may have synthetic waxes that contain chemicals. It is often recommended to leave the skin of organically grown cucumbers intact regardless of whether the cucumber has been waxed. Cucumbers contain a phytonutrient, lignin, known to provide anti-cancer benefits by promoting a protective role of bacteria in the digestive tract.
One of the most delicious fruits of summer with their natural sweetness and unique flavor, pluots are an easy, highly nutritious addition to any diabetes and weight management eating plan. A cross between an apricot and a plum, it looks more like a plum because genetically the fruit is about 70 percent plum and 30 percent apricot.
Pluots have intense flavor. They are a great source of vitamins A and C, and as a plant food, they are extremely low in fat and sodium and are cholesterol-free. Pluots are mainly grown in the Central Valley area of California and are available from late May through September. Pluots are ripe when the fruit gives to pressure and is fragrant. They should be handled delicately.
The pluot's sweetness makes it a great addition to any summer fruit salad or tabletop fruit bowl. The pluot can also be used as a topping or ingredient in frozen desserts or yogurt, or in a sauce over whole grain pancakes. As a nice seasonal change from the typical breakfast fruits such as bananas and raisins, they can also be used as a delicious topping for high-fiber and whole grain breakfast cereals.
Often overlooked in the produce aisle, Swiss chard's nutritional benefits for people with or without diabetes are hard to beat. Dark green leaves and red, purple, or yellow stalks reflect an abundance of phytonutrients, which provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Studies on animals have shown that chard has unique benefits for blood sugar regulation. Laboratory and animal studies indicate that syringic acid, one of chard's flavonoids, has the ability to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. This enzyme breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars. When the enzyme is inhibited, fewer carbs break down and blood sugar stays at more even levels. Chard contains a good amount of fiber (more than 3.5 grams per cooked cup) and protein (3.5 grams per cooked cup). Foods high in natural fibers help stabilize blood sugar levels by regulating the speed of digestion and absorption.
One cup of cooked Swiss chard has only 35 calories and 7 grams of carb. Swiss chard grows in a variety of climates throughout the United States and is widely available throughout the year.
Add Mediterranean flair as well as fiber and antioxidants to meals with this beautiful purple vegetable. The unique flavor and texture of eggplant lends itself to a variety of cooking methods. Try roasting or grilling with a light coating of olive oil for a wonderful main dish or side; use leftovers in a salad the next day.
The Mediterranean diet includes nuts, seeds, and olive oil, and generous servings of fruits and vegetables. An excellent source of dietary fiber and manganese, eggplant is also a good source of molybdenum and potassium. Eggplant is also rich in vitamin K, magnesium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found chlorogenic acid, a dominant antioxidant, in eggplant, which can also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
One cup of cooked eggplant has only 35 calories, 9 grams of carb., and 2 grams of fiber. In the United States, Georgia is the largest eggplant-producing state; the majority of eggplants are grown in other areas of the world, including Italy, Turkey, Egypt, China, and Japan.
With a variety of shapes and sizes, summer tomatoes make a nutritious and delicious addition to any meal. Available year-round across the United States, fresh tomatoes are most flavorful from July through September (those planted in late spring or early summer).
The tomato in any variety or form provides multiple health benefits -- especially for reducing risks of complications of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A study by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed tomato-product consumption patterns and prostate cancer risk, and it concluded that frequent consumption of tomato products is associated with a reduced risk. Low in calories (1 cup has only 32 calories and 7 grams of carb.), tomatoes are a superior source of vitamin C and vitamin A as well as vitamin K -- important for bone health. Other vital nutrients in tomatoes include lycopene, potassium, vitamin B6, folate, dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, niacin, and vitamin E. As in other nutrient-rich foods, these substances work together to promote good health. Remember, pills don't grow on trees!
Baked, stuffed, sauteed, or raw in healthful snacks or salads, summer squash is a nutrition bargain with healthful benefits. Shredded zucchini adds moistness, fiber, and antioxidants to baked goods -- your family will never know there are vegetables hiding in their dessert!
Summer squash, including dark green zucchini, yellow crookneck, and round pattypan varieties, not only provide significant fiber at 2.5 grams per cup, but it also provides polysaccharide fibers such as pectin that have special benefits for blood sugar regulation.
Several animal studies have shown that these components in summer squash help keep insulin metabolism and blood sugar levels in balance, and protect against the onset of type 2 diabetes. In addition to benefitting blood glucose response, squash provides B vitamins folate, B6, B1, B2, B3, choline, zinc, and magnesium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. A 1-cup serving of summer squash has only about 30 calories and 7 grams of carb. Florida, California, Georgia, and New York are the top squash-growing states in the United States, but summer squash is grown all over the world.
Red snapper is a healthy, low-calorie option for summer grilling. Red snapper has a subtly sweet flavor, with a firm texture. Pair red snapper with bold flavors, such as red pepper and basil, and grilled sweet vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes. Avoid overcooking this firm yet delicate fish.
Red snapper is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which boasts more than 100 mg in just one ounce. The American Heart Association recommends consuming omega-3's such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to help lower triglyceride levels. Even though red snapper is loaded with fats, it's still a lean choice compared to most meats -- a three-ounce portion is just 90 calories. Plus, it makes for a high-protein addition to any meal, providing 6 grams of protein per ounce. Red snapper is also high in vitamin B12, which helps maintain a healthy nervous system. It's also essential for avoiding anemia, which can cause a person to feel sluggish.
Red snapper is often caught wild in areas near North Carolina to Texas. Be cautious of buying red snapper imported from Mexico, which has areas of overfishing.
You might not think about green beans as a power food, but with antioxidants such as lutein and beta-carotene, their nutritional value is comparable to other bright-color vegetables.
Green beans are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as bone-building vitamin K. Mild in flavor, they make a wonderful low-calorie addition to any meal, whether stir-fried, steamed, or in salads. One cup of green beans has only 44 calories and 10 grams of carb., and also provides about 4 grams of fiber -- important for digestion and glucose management.
About 60 percent of all commercially grown green beans are produced in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin. As delicious as fresh green beans are, you can still get many valuable nutrients from green beans that have been frozen or canned. When first frozen and then cooked, retention of some B vitamins in green beans can be as high as 90 percent, according to research from University of California, Davis.
Sweet, crisp peppers are a beautiful addition to any meal. Peppers are packed with nutrients and are a terrific source of vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin B6, beta-carotene, and folic acid. Sweet peppers contain a large amount of phytochemicals that have exceptional antioxidant activity. Red sweet peppers also contain lycopene, which helps protect against cancer and heart disease. One cup of sliced fresh peppers has about 28 calories and 6 grams of carb., easily fitting into any diabetes or weight management plan.
While the red sweet pepper is usually thought of as more nutrient-rich, the green sweet pepper is a top source of luteolin -- also found in celery, carrots, and some herbs -- which provides anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antimicrobial effects. A study from the University of Illinois looked at luteolin's ability to decrease brain inflammation that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Researchers found that high doses of luteolin reduced one marker of inflammation by up to 90 percent.
Peppers are available throughout the year, but they are most abundant during the summer and early fall. California and Florida are the largest sweet pepper-producing states, but peppers are grown throughout the world.
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