There’s nothing that shouts summer like a rich red tomato. But they don’t just taste great – tomatoes are officially good for you.
Forget oranges – tomatoes pack a mega punch when it comes to vitamin C, which is essential for a healthy immune system. They also contain vitamin A, energy-boosting iron and potassium, which has been proven to reduce strokes.
But the real reason this Mediterranean favourite is a ‘super food’ is thanks to its distinctive red skin. The red pigment contains lycopene which acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that can damage cells in the body. Cases of prostate, pancreatic, bowel and breast cancer have all been show to be significantly reduced in people who eat plenty of tomatoes.
And there’s another healthy summer link to this salad staple. A recent study found it can protect against sunburn and improve the skin’s ability to form collagen – a tissue that keeps it elastic and young-looking. Not that we’re suggesting several helpings of pasta sauce are a replacement for factor 20!
Unlike other fruit and veg, tomatoes don’t lose any of their nutritional value in high heat processing, so canned tomatoes are just as beneficial as fresh. In fact, cooking releases the lycopene and a touch of oil helps your body absorb it too.
Most people wouldn’t expect cucumber to have much in the way of health benefits as they have such a delicate flavour and watery texture. But this fruit – not vegetable as we have come to regard them as – is being widely researched at the moment for its many health giving properties.
It’s already known that the nutrients within cucumbers contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits. Cucumbers are easily grown in many climates and are found in most cuisines around the world as a result. From the same family as melons and squashes, cucumbers contain three nutrients which are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease as well as some cancers. Many pharmaceutical companies are actively studying one group of compounds found in cucumber, called cucurbitacins, in the hope that their research may lead to development of new anti-cancer drugs.
With a 96 per cent water content that is more nutritious than tap water, cucumbers are perfect to keep you hydrated on hot summer days, regulating your body temperature and helping to flush out toxins. Digestive disorders like acidity, heartburn, even ulcers can be aided by drinking fresh cucumber juice because of the water and fibre content.
The high silica content of cucumber also helps to prevent splitting nails, encourage hair growth and and also keeps joints healthy too by strengthening the connective tissues.
Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits – it’s thought that they were a staple part of the Babylonian diet 8,000 years ago. Grown in North Africa and Israel, there are several varieties, but only a handful are exported to Britian.
Colours range from honey yellow, red to brown, the last of which is the most common. Available fresh or dried, they’re very sweet, with a rich, deep flavour and a lush, slightly chewy texture. The mahogany brown Medjool variety is the sweetest, and tastes a little like toffee.
Fresh dates should be plump and moist with glossy skins. Dried dates, though a little wrinkly, shouldn’t look emaciated, and should still be plump and glossy, with an even colour. They are sold whole, packaged in long narrow boxes, or pressed into blocks.
Dried dates are ready to use straight away – but you can also soak them in a liquid like tea or various types of alcohol, to boost flavour and moisture.
To remove the stone from a fresh date, just push it out with your fingers, or slit open lengthways, remove, and push the flesh closed again. To remove the skin, pull off the stem, then pinch at one end to push the flesh out.
Fresh dates will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for around a week. Dried dates stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place will keep for up to a year.
If you want a vegetable which really packs a nutritional punch then you’d be wise to serve up broccoli. A close relative of cauliflower, and from the same family as cabbage and sprouts, broccoli has grown wild in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years.
It’s bursting with vitamins and an excellent source of the phytochemical sulforaphane, which has been scientifically proven to help reduce the risk of cancer. The summer is the perfect time to add broccoli to your plate too as sulforaphane has now been found to help repair sun-damaged skin. It’s already known for its ability to boost liver function and help skin cells’ detoxify. Its high vitamin C levels also help the growth of collagen to keep skin firm and slow the signs of ageing.
And amazingly broccoli is an excellent source of calcium. Because of the high levels of vitamin C it also contains, this is easily absorbed by our bodies.
Another compound found in broccoli appears to be more effective than antibiotics against the bacteria which causes peptic ulcers. Broccoli has also been singled out as one of the small number of vegetables and fruits that contribute to a significant reduction in heart disease.
There is nothing which conjures up a British summer more than Wimbledon and strawberries and cream. And while the tennis is drawing to a close, luckily the strawberry season is still going strong.
Although it’s possible to buy them all year round, the varieties grown in season in the fields of the UK certainly have that quintessential flavour. You may not realise that strawberries are actually part of the rose family and not technically a fruit.
But they give any fruit a run for their money when it comes to their nutritional benefits. A cup of strawberries will provide you with 140pc of your daily intake of vitamin C. They are also one of the foods containing ellagic acid which acts as a scavenger to “bind” cancer-causing chemicals, making them inactive. It doesn’t stop there; strawberries have found to inhibiting the production of cholesterol in the liver and help regulate blood pressure.
And they are great if you are trying to get bikini ready this summer – berries are also low in sugar, making them a perfect fruit for anyone following a low GI diet and also diabetics.
Edamame are young soybeans, usually still in the pod. Because the beans are young and green when they are picked, edamame soybeans are soft and edible, not hard and dry like the mature soybeans which are used to make soy milk and tofu.
To cook edamame that is still in the pod, boil the pods in salted water for a few minutes, or steam, then sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. You can eat edamame hot or cold.
To eat, place the pod at your mouth, then squeeze or bite the beans into your mouth. You don’t eat the pod, just the edamame beans inside, which easily pop out.
Shelled edamame beans are a popular ingredient in salads. The small, green beans provide texture, color, flavor, and a good amount of protein. Roasting soybeans slightly prior to adding to salads provides a deeper flavor and texture.
Soybeans can also be pureed and seasoned to form a flavorful and nutritious dip.
Edamame are prized among vegetarians for their high protein content. Not only are these small, green beans high in protein, but they contain all nine amino acids making them a complete protein, similar to meat. In addition to protein, edamame also contains high amounts of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals.
Blackberries are found growing wild all over the UK and with their spiky stems thick with berries, just a short time spent picking them can result in a quite a haul! Perfect eaten freshly picked, frozen or canned they are a more versatile fruit than they are given credit for and make one of the most popular jams in the country.
As well as tasting wonderful, blackberries are also rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are also low in calories, carbohydrates and fat, making them one of the best fruits out there for a balanced diet.
In fact, blackberries are one of the highest fibre plants – thirty per cent of the daily recommended amount of fibre can be found in just one cup. As such they are great at regulating blood sugar levels as the steady movement of fibre through the digestive system prevents sugar spikes and dips. This can help prevent diabetes and bowel cancer. They will also help you feel full for longer so are great for dieters.
hytoestrogens found in blackberries may help relieve the common symptoms of PMS like bloating, food cravings, and even menopausal symptoms including hot flushes. And blackberries are a good source of vitamin K; one serving offers 36 per cent of the daily recommended amount, which is used by the body for the clotting of blood and to aid the absorption of calcium.
If you’ve been soaking up the sun then you might want to enjoy a bowl of blackberries in the evening because like other berries, they’re a great source of ellagic acid, an antioxidant shown to protect the skin from sun damage – and increasingly studies suggest this acid can even repair damaged skin.
Oyster mushrooms are instantly recognisable by their distinctive shape and can sometimes be found growing wild on old logs. They are commonly used in Chinese cooking as they have a long history, thought to be approximately 3,000 years, of being used in Chinese medicine. They are said to be excellent for boosting the immune system.
Thanks to a unique antioxidant produced only by fungi, oyster mushrooms have significant properties that protect cells in the body. They also contain high levels of zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, and vitamins B-1 and B-2.In fact, oyster mushrooms are so high in antioxidant compounds they are being studied as a possible defence against HIV. They have compounds which have been found to kill bacteria and viruses and produce and anti-inflammatory effect in the body. They can decrease cholesterol levels naturally as they also contain statins, which take cholesterol through the liver much more readily to rid the body of cholesterol.
So why not switch some of your plain white mushrooms for strips of the oyster variety instead?