Fantasically Healthy Summer Foods

Summer is the time for al fresco luncheons, super-fresh ingredients, freckles across the bridge of the nose, and devouring anything raw, cool, local, and preferably organic.

It's also the season of swimsuits and outdoor activities and low-key social outings, so naturally, you want to look and feel your best as you experience everything summer has to offer.

Here are some of the healthiest foods that reach their peak in summer—devour at will.

Tomatoes

Juicy, flavorful, and full of powerful antioxidants, tomatoes reach their absolute best in the summer months (a winter tomato from the grocery store just can't compare).

The deep red (or orange) color of tomatoes signifies the presence of lycopene, an antioxidant important for bone health (one study showed that postmenopausal women who didn't consume lycopene for 4 weeks showed negative changes in their bone tissue).

They're also heart-healthy: tomato extracts have been shown to lower cholesterol and prevent clumping together of platelet cells in the blood (this clumping can lead to heart issues such as atherosclerosis). And they're a powerful source of vitamin C, to help prevent those infamous summer colds.

Green Beans

On the opposite end of the color spectrum, we have bright green beans and their impressive carotenoids. The presence of carotenoids like lutein, beta-carotene, violaxanthin, and neoxanthin in green beans means they protect your body's cells from free-radicals, which is especially beneficial during the summer when you're spending lots of time in the sun.

Green beans have more antioxidants than their relatives (like snow peas and winged beans). They're also a great source of the mineral silicon, which is necessary for healthy bones and connective tissues.

So eat a tangle of steamed green beans and run through the sprinkler with confidence!

Basil

You might not think of basil as a major component of a healthy diet, but don't ignore this flavorful herb. Basil leaves are full of flavonoids, which give your body advantages at the cellular level, protecting cell structures from radiation and oxygen-based damage.

The "volatile oils" in basil have been proven to be extremely effective against bad bacterial growth. Snag a bottle of basil essential oil at Whole Foods, and add a drop to your veggie-washing water: studies in Food Microbiology (February 2004), showed that washing your produce in a solution with 1% basil essential oil killed the number of Shigella bacteria (which cause diarrhea and intestinal damage) on the produce.

Adding a handful of fresh basil leaves to salads is another way to keep your salad vegetables safe. Basil is also anti-inflammatory and a good source of magnesium, iron, and calcium.

Stone Fruit

Also known as “drupes,” stone fruits are characterized by an edible, fleshy outside that surrounds a pit or seed: think cherries, nectarines, plums, peaches, and apricots, all of which are at their peak in the summer months. Not only are stone fruits sweet and delicious and great in desserts, they're good for your heart and a strong source of vitamin C and fiber.

Crayfish

Embrace your inner Scandinavian with this summery crustacean (also known as crawfish or crawdads). The Nordic countries are known for their summertime crayfish parties, where they cook crayfish with dill and serve it cold—accompanied by lots of beer.

Crayfish are low in fat and high in protein, and since they contain all nine essential amino acids they're one of the best ways protein options out there. The crustaceans are full of the essential acid omega-3 and a good source of vitamin B12, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, and copper.

Hmm...a cold tomato-and-green-bean salad tossed with lots of basil, a mess of boiled crayfish, and baskets of ripe stone fruit for dessert...looks like all the ingredients are there for a perfect summertime dinner!