Every shopping trip to your local farmers’ market can feel like a food adventure, trying new flavors or picking up favorites that you’ve waited three long seasons to eat. A smorgasbord of bright, colorful, wild and wonderful produce of all shapes and sizes await your selection. While your wide eyes search for robust new flavors, colors, and textures to add to your next meals, don’t forget to grab these five seasonal staples, too, that are packed with health-promoting nutrients, according to the latest science.
Pass the pesto, please. Several recent studies show that basil may help suppress the rise in blood glucose after a meal. Scientists say these findings could eventually lead to an effective treatment for people living with diabetes in the near future. This yummy herb is also really low in calories and high in nutrients including beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are all good for the eyes. It also contains vitamin K for bone health, and antioxidants orientin and vicenin. In one small study published in DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, a cream containing basil extract was found to moisturize skin and reduce wrinkles. Maybe that’s why Madonna was taking a basil bath in April?
Peas are a legume, which makes them another potential diabetes fighter. For a study published in Clinical Nutrition this March, researchers analyzed more than 3,300 people at high risk of cardiovascular disease but without type 2 diabetes. After four years, they discovered that those who ate more than 3 weekly servings of legumes (including lentils and beans) had a 35 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared to those who ate only 1.5 servings a week. A high-fiber food, peas slow down the digestion of sugar, which is good for diabetics and people with pre-diabetes. Peas are also high in a polyphenol called coumestrol. A Mexican study reported that 2 micrograms of coumestrol daily may help prevent stomach cancer. A cup of peas has at least 10 micrograms.
3. Wild Blueberries
Wild blueberries are easiest to find at farmers’ markets. These remarkable berries are considered a super-fruit and have been shown to have a host of potential benefits, including inhibiting the growth of breast cancer, reducing cholesterol, and blood pressure, alleviating hypoglycemia, and protecting against Alzheimer’s. Most recently British scientists asked healthy 65- to 77-year-olds to consume a concentrated blueberry juice or a placebo daily. Those who drank the supplement showed improved activation in brain areas associated with cognitive function.
Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Food
These peppery, anti-inflammatory veggies give you a big nutritional bang for your caloric buck. An entire cup of sliced radishes has a mere 19 calories and nearly a third of your recommended daily vitamin C. This serving size also contains 7 percent of both your potassium and fiber. In Chinese medicine, radishes are believed to eliminate stagnant food and toxins in the digestive track. And back in 19th century Europe, people added radishes to rich meals to regulate the production and flow of bile, which helps your body digest fattier meals. Try different varieties, such as watermelon, which looks like the fruit when sliced, for new flavors and colors.
5. Summer Squash
Bumper crops of zucchini and yellow and grey squash—often in heirloom varieties—show up at farmer’s stands this time of year. Take advantage of all the tasty options. Summer squash are rich in leutin, a carotenoid shown to fight cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. In addition to keeping your eyes healthy, squash is also high in potassium. Your body uses this essential electrolyte to build muscle, break down and use carbs, control the electrical activity of the heart, and more. Try this delicious summer squash soup recipe chilled or warm.
Creamy Summer Squash Soup
1 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium yellow summer squash, seeded and cubed (about 3 cups)
1 1/2-2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1/8 teaspoon black or white pepper
1 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
2 teaspoons shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add garlic and cook a minute longer.
2. Add the squash and saute for 3 minutes.
3. Stir in broth, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until squash is tender.
4. Transfer soup to a blender and mix until smooth. Return all to the pan.
5. Stir in lemon juice and hot pepper sauce, if using; heat through. Sprinkle each serving with cheese, if desired, and lemon peel. Serve warm or chill and serve cold.
Approximately 1 quart, or 2-4 servings