It's hard to believe we're already at the beginning of August. Summer seems to be rushing by in the blink of an eye as it does every year. The start of August always has me feeling a little sad because it means that Fall will soon be knocking on our door and after Fall comes Winter. I am not even close to being a Winter person. But the feelings of sadness over the pending arrival of cooler weather is quickly overshadowed by the fact that August and September are peak months for harvesting all of the gorgeous summer produce that Ontario has to offer. So, I thought it fitting to put my focus for this edition of the Blissful Blog on the beautiful and lusciously sweet "natural candy" that Mother Nature has to offer as summer starts to draw to a close.
Ah, the deep purplish-blue hue of blueberries. They are so rich and luxurious looking and just the sight of them makes my mouth water. Blueberries have been consumed by man since prehistoric times and there are approximately 30 different species with different varieties growing in distinctly separate regions.
Blueberries are an excellent source of flavonoids (the rich colour-producing pigments in plant foods that provide powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits), especially anthocyanidins. They are loaded with vitamin C, soluble and insoluble fiber and are also a good source of manganese, vitamin E and riboflavin. Blueberries come with a number of health benefits, including:
A Special Note Regarding Blueberries - Blueberries contain moderate levels of oxalates (food compounds that can inhibit the absorption of calcium). Those with a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should limit their consumption.
Cherries...I am somewhat addicted to them. I literally eat them every single day all year long. Frozen organic cherries are a staple that go into my smoothies. But there is nothing that beats sweet and juicy taste explosion of a fresh local cherry on hot summer days. There are about 15 varieties of sour cherries and over 500 varieties of the sweet ones...my favourite. Both sour and sweet cherries are rich in flavonoids, melatonin and perillyl alcohol (a naturally occurring plant alcohol with powerful anti-cancer properties). They are also both excellent sources of vitamins A and C, copper and manganese. And these little beauties come with quite a list of health benefits:
When purchasing fresh cherries, be sure to check for any signs of mold or decay, refrigerate them right away and wash them thoroughly before eating. Cherries are susceptible to the growth of Aspergillus molds, which produce a toxin also found in moldy peanuts call Aflatoxin.
If you like a fruit that offers a whopping dose of "pucker power", black currants are sure to please. These little black beauties will most certainly make for some sourpuss faces and it's well worth it! Loaded with vitamin C (I'm talking 300% of your daily recommended intake in a 100g serving), iron, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium and potassium, black currants are a powerhouse of nutrition with a huge list of health benefits which include:
While currants do come in other colours such as yellow and red, it's the black varieties that offer the most nutritional punch. When buying black currants, make sure they are in good shape, that the skin is not broken or shriveled, and that they are freshly picked. They will keep in the fridge for a few days once you bring them home.
Gooseberries are a pretty cool little fruit that you don't often find in the aisles of the grocery store. This makes it all the more exciting when we can stumble across them at a local market or independent grocer. They have a deep rooted history in Europe, but actually originated in Asia and Africa. There are many different varieties of gooseberries, but they all get filtered into "American" or "European" categories. Gooseberries are a tart yet sweet little berry and are super fun to eat when they come wrapped in their delicate paper-like pods. They have quite the inventory of nutrients including vitamins A and C, B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and copper. And, like all berries, they work wonders for our health:
Gooseberries are delicious but are a little higher in fructose content than other berries. By all means enjoy them...just do so in moderation
Peaches (and Nectarines)
Peaches are a gorgeous (and fuzzy) fruit that, for me, has me devouring them while hovering over the kitchen sink so that I don't dribble the insane amount of juice that comes from them all over the floor as I stand and snarf them back. August here in Ontario means that peaches from our nutrient rich Niagara Escarpment soils are hitting the market stands and people just need to get out of my way so I can full-on gorge on them before they are gone for yet another year. For me, there is no sweeter or juicier summer delight.
Peaches (and their cousin nectarines) are excellent sources of carotenes and flavonoids such as lycopene and lutein which give red, orange and yellow pigments to fruits and vegetables. These properties are particularly beneficial to preventing macular degeneration, heart disease and even cancer. So while they may not be the most nutrient dense fruit of the summer, peaches (and nectarines) do offer some unique and important health benefits, so dig in while the best of the best are available!
Plums are a relative to the peach, nectarine and, believe it or not, the almond. There are more than 200 varieties of plums to be found around the world and they vary in size, shape and colour depending on the variety and area in which they are grown. They can be as small as a cherry or as large as a peach and come in a range of colours from red to purple, to yellow to black. Plums are great source of vitamin C as well as B vitamins, phenolic compounds (plant compounds which help protect the body from cancer) and the ever important (and often neglected) dietary fiber which means that plums are an excellent all natural remedy for constipation. Plums are also excellent little fighters against cancer thanks to their neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid content (two related plant phenol compounds with well-documented antioxidant and anti-cancer effects).
Good quality ripe plums should have a distinctively plummy, sweet fragrance to them and their skin should yield to gentle pressure, especially at the end opposite the stem. Avoid plums that are hard as they are too immature and will not properly develop a good taste and texture. Also, be sure to avoid plums that have skin damage, discolouration or a mushy texture.
I just couldn't write a post on summer fruit without mentioning raspberries. I could quite easily eat myself to death on these babies. A few years ago, I ate so many of them for so long that I literally gave myself a food sensitivity to them - my body's way of saying "enough is enough already!". I had to put myself into raspberry rehab for a good 6 months before I could start eating them again.
Raspberries are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, flavonoids and ellagic acid (another wonderful plant compound known for its antioxidant and anti-cancer properties). They are also a great source of B vitamins. Because raspberries are such a nutrient dense low calorie food, they are the perfect substitute for anyone with a raging sweet tooth who wants to improve their quality of nutrition without increasing the caloric content of their diet. Anthocyanadin, the flavonoid responsible for the deep red colour of raspberries as well as the majority of their health benefits, act as a powerful antioxidant which helps scavenge free radicals and protect our cells against cancer. Other health benefits of raspberries include:
When purchasing raspberries, look for the smaller varieties that have a rich, deep colour and a sweet berry-like aroma. These are the ones that will have the most flavour...sweet and succulent! Avoid berries that have a hull attached in the centre which is a sign that they were picked before they fully ripened. Raspberries are delicate berries and perish quickly so only buy them in small quantities and eat them within a couple of days (no problem for me!). Take care when washing them, using a gentle setting on the faucet and not piling too many into the colander. If not buying organic, be sure you wash them with a good fruit and veggie wash as raspberries are one of the fruits that tend to hold on to pesticide residues more than other fruits.
NOTE: Like blueberries, raspberries contain moderate levels oxalates so those with a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should limit their consumption of them.
Living in Canada where our winters are long and our summers fleeting, it just makes sense to take advantage of the beautiful bounty that our local area has to offer before the growing season is over for another year and we're back to eating imported fruits. Nothing beats the nutrition and flavour that locally grown produce has to offer! So be sure to visit your farmer's market and support local growers. Buy organic when and where you can and, most importantly, savour the brilliance that Mother Nature has to offer. It won't be long before the colder and darker days of Fall and Winter are upon us.
Jill Taylor is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She is the mom of two pretty awesome teenagers, s very dramatic dog, a hedgehog and a snake (yikes!). Jill assists her clients in achieving true wellness through thoughtful and compassionate dietary and lifestyle coaching. Feel free to visit the "Contact" page to get in touch. Jill would love to hear from you!