Healthy Eating: The ultimate summertime treats

Five mouth-watering and refreshing ways to cool down, re-energize, and load up on vitamins, minerals as well as antioxidants this coming summer.

Watermelons 311 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Watermelons 311
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
As the weather starts to really heat up, and the sun begins to set later and later, you can almost taste summer in the air. And what better way to cool off this summer than with an icy popsicle or freezing cold ice cream? Wrong! While these revitalizing treats may be extremely tasty and will certainly cool you down under the blistering summer sun, they are unfortunately loaded with calories, sugar and unhealthy saturated fats as well as contain no health benefits whatsoever. However, don’t despair as there are many other foods that will keep you cool, hydrated and most importantly filled with essential nutrients this June, July and August.
So without further ado, five fruits that you should be snacking on this spring and summer…
The Watermelon
First up on our summer treat list is the crunchy yet juicy picnic favorite: watermelon! The sweet flavor and refreshing properties of this pink fruit make it the ideal snack for a sizzling hot day, However, its benefits extend far beyond providing us with a tasty thirst quenching treat as the watermelon offers numerous health benefits that shouldn’t just be reserved for the summertime.
Like oranges, strawberries and kiwi, watermelon is an excellent source of Vitamin C, a vitamin that is essential for growth and development as well as the immune system. Watermelon also contains lycopene, the photochemical that gives the fruit its pinkish reddish color (just like in tomatoes.) As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene neutralizes harmful free radicals. Free radicals cause a great deal of damage throughout the body including oxidizing cholesterol, which causes cholesterol to stick to the arterial wall, potentially leading to heart attacks and strokes. Lycopene helps to prevent the oxidization of cholesterol, thus helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, an increasing number of studies have shown that this antioxidant can help prevent many different types of cancers, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancers. Finally, and most importantly for the summer, lycopene has been shown to protect skin cells from the damage caused by UV rays. The anti-oxidant settles into our skin’s outer layer, where it helps repair cells that have been damaged by the sun. Also don’t worry if your watermelon is left out in the sun all day, as heat actually increases the lycopene content in fruits and vegetables.
So what else does watermelon have aside from vitamins and antioxidants? Most people assume that because it is so sweet, it must be high in calories. Fortunately, this rumor is false! In fact, one cup of diced watermelon contains only 46 calories. Why so low? Watermelon, as the name suggests, is loaded with water; in fact a slice of this fruit is over 90 percent water, making it an excellent way to re-hydrate and re-energize yourself on a sizzling hot day.
The Coconut
In the past, many people were scared to eat coconuts due to their high calorie and fat content as well as the general belief that coconuts (and their oil) were just plain bad for you. However, today, new studies have shown that both coconuts and coconut oil actually offer an extensive list of health benefits.
While they are extremely high in saturated fat, most of the saturated fat found in coconuts and their oil are medium chain fatty acids or medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Unlike long chain triglycerides that require the action of the pancreas and bile salts for digestion, MCTs require very little digestive effort by the body, and are quickly transported into to the liver where they are used directly for energy. In this sense, they are processed very similarly to carbohydrates, however it does not cause the blood spikes and falls that some carbohydrates do.  Moreover, these medium-chain fatty acids promote the absorption of other nutrients. Therefore, eating a coconut (or using coconut oil) with other foods actually increases the absorption of their nutrients, particularly calcium and magnesium.
However, that isnot all. About half of these MCTs are lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid that converts into monolaurin once inside the body. Monolaurin is believed to have antibacterial and antiviral properties and is used to fight against lipid coated viruses such as influenza, HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus and other bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori. Coconuts and coconut oil are also rich in capric acid, another medium chain fatty acid that is converted into monocaprin in the body. Monocaprin displays antiviral and antibacterial properties that help to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and Chlamydia.
The Guava
Native to the Caribbean, this tropical fruit not only emits a sweet yet pungent fragrance, but it is also packed with tons of nutritional benefits – securing itself the title of the super food of the tropics.
Oranges, strawberries and kiwi are typically celebrated for their high Vitamin C content. However did you know that the guava outranks all of them, with a cup providing 628% of one’s daily requirement of this vitamin (four times that of an orange)! As a powerful anti-oxidant, Vitamin C mops up free radicals that can damage cells and oxidize cholesterol (leading to plaque build-up on the arterial walls.) This all important water-soluble vitamin also boosts the immune system as well as acts as an anti-histamine by decreasing the amount of histamine that is released into the body. While guavas and their enormous Vitamin C content can help you out on the inside, did you know that they can also lend a helping hand to your skin, by reducing and even preventing wrinkles caused by summertime sun damage? Here’s how it works: Vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of collagen – the fibrous protein that supports and connects organs to bones. While there are many different types of collagen in our body, almost 70% of it is located in the second layer of our skin, called the dermis.  It is this connective protein that is responsible for the elasticity of our skin. However, as we age, our bodies produce less and less of it and once youthful expression lines quickly turn into unwanted wrinkles as the skin losses its flexibility. However, studies have shown a diet rich in Vitamin C boosts the production of collagen thereby keeping skin toned, firm and maybe even wrinkle free.
The Passion Fruit
This summer prepare to get passionate, for some passion fruit that is. Also known as "purple granadilla", passion fruit is a tropical fruit with a yellowish orange pulpy inside and edible black seeds. It’s highly aromatic scent and flavor excites the senses, promoting an overall calming effect; however that’s not all. Between its high quantities of Vitamin A and C, this South American delicacy certainly packs a healthy punch of essential nutrients. However, that’s not all that this fruit brings to the table. A one cup serving has 25 grams of dietary fiber (that’s almost 100% of one’s daily requirement)! This high fiber content not only keeps you feeling full longer, but it is important to cleanse the colon and to improve digestion. Moreover, studies have shown that fiber helps to lower cholesterol, thereby reducing one’s risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Even a single passion fruit has two grams of fiber – quite a bit for a fruit that is no bigger than a kiwi. Passion fruits are also an excellent source of potassium, phosphorus and iron, a mineral which helps to boost one’s energy amongst other things. Finally a substance found in passion fruits is believed to block the production of histamine, thus reducing inflammation and allergy symptoms.
The Pineapple
Prepare to board the pineapple express! The exceptional juiciness and the vibrant tropical flavor of this fruit make it a perfect summer treat. However, there is much more to the pineapple then its delicious combination of sweet and sour flavor. For starters, bromelain which is found naturally in the flesh and stem of the pineapple, helps reduce allergy symptoms as this enzyme helps absorb quercetin, a flavonoid found in red wine, apples, berries and onions. Quercetin reduces the rate at which histamine is released by mast cells, thereby minimizing allergy symptoms, something that is quite beneficial for those suffering from seasonal allergies in the spring and summer. Apart from bromelain, pineapples supply more than 100% of one’s daily recommended intake of manganese – a trace mineral needed for normal brain and nerve function as well as proper bone development and maintenance. This mineral is also important for the metabolic process as well as acts as an antioxidant. In addition to manganese, pineapples are a respectable source of thiamin (Vitamin B1), a vitamin needed for energy production. This tropical fruit is also a great source of Vitamin C (providing almost 50% of one’s daily requirement). This vitamin not only acts as an antioxidant, fighting off free radicals which can cause atherosclerosis (artery plaque build-up), cancer and joint pain, but it is also vital for the proper function of the immune system, making it a nutrient to help make sure that you enjoy your summer without getting sick!
So don’t just rely on ice cream, popsicles and fudgesicles to cool down this sizzling season. Instead mix it up by adding these five summery fruits to your diet. Not only will they leave you feeling refreshed and re-energized but they are an excellent way to boost your overall health.