Splashing some cool, beautifully coloured, fresh produce onto your plate is a great way to serve up the best healthy foods to eat this summer. But, don’t forget the spice: there are some cool facts behind why so many warm climate cultures cook with spices. Wash down that spicy heat with lots of hydrating water (or, try one of the healthy water alternatives below). We’ve got you, the best healthy foods to eat this summer to beat the heat, as well as some tasty, healthy BBQ alternatives worth trying.
Luckily, in Canada, summer is the season of fresh, local produce making it easy to find some of the best healthy foods to eat at your local farmers’ markets. From peaches to fresh peas, there are so many nutritious and delicious foods to eat this summer.
Buy local – it is a healthy choice! The nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables is the highest right after harvest and then declines over time. In plants there are naturally occurring enzymes, and after the fruit or vegetables are picked these start to breakdown nutrients in the produce. Researchers note the vitamin C content of broccoli was cut in half when it was shipped to another country, versus from local farms. Canadians love to buy local produce! In a 2020 survey, 79.5% of Canadians reported they don’t mind paying a premium price for produce grown locally. The less time between when your fresh produce was harvested, and when you eat it, the better. Enjoy the summer farmer’s markets filled with local produce!
Remember that buying organic is important, whenever possible. Pesticide residual left on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables constitute the main source of human exposure. Population studies have linked pesticide exposure with some adverse effects on children’s cognitive development.
During July and August in Canada, you can find these healthy foods in season. Look for the * to indicate those which are considered part of the Dirty Dozen, and are best if organically grown.
Phew! When it’s hot outside, eat foods that help you stay cool. Fruits and vegetables are mostly water – eat up! Cucumber, watermelon, coconut water, green leafy vegetables, and melons probably come to mind when you think of cooling foods. You can’t go wrong with serving whole foods for the whole family this summer! Whole foods are packed with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients the body needs for fun in the sun. And, then there’s spice – a common ingredient used by cultures who live in hot environments.
Countries with hot climates tend to include spices in their culinary traditions. Cuisines from the Caribbean, India, and Ethiopia are known for their spice. Theories have been floated around that adding spice was an adaptation to ward off the chance of food poisoning, as many spices have antimicrobial properties. However, a recent study, published in Nature, suggests that the data doesn’t appear to support this theory. So, why add spice to your food when the weather is hot? Eating spicy foods, such as peppers, can make you sweat. Peppers contain an active ingredient called capsaicin. Capsaicin stimulates nerves in your mouth (or on your skin) that give a sensation of warmth, as well as a message of intense stimulus which combine in the brain as a sensation of burn. This tricks the brain into producing perspiration. Eating chili peppers makes you sweat and sweating cools you down. Eating spicy foods is one way to stay cool in hot weather.
Let’s consider the many factors involved in appetite and how your body’s attempt to stay cool in hot weather can influence your hunger. When it’s hot out, less energy is required to keep yourself warm, which can lower your caloric needs. Eating and digesting food generates heat, which may make you feel uncomfortably warm, reducing your desire to eat. When it’s hot out you sweat more, increasing your desire to drink water which is filling and can suppress feelings of hunger. In extreme heat, you may feel less inclined to move as moving generates heat – this may lower your caloric output and thus lower your natural drive to refuel. Your body is a master of balance and it will tell you what you need if you listen. In hot weather, if you are not feeling hungry, that’s okay – just be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
You need water, even more so when it’s hot outside. On a regular day, you lose water from breathing, urine, and faeces, as well as sweating (you’re doing it all the time – more than you may realize). Typically, a human adult loses 2 to 2 ½ liters of water a day – drink up! Nothing feels better than being hydrated. A pro tip from holistic nutritionists is to start your day with water (some like to add a squirt of lemon juice). A healthy way to spruce up your beverage during the day time, or at night at a summer backyard party, add one of these refreshing combos into your water glass:
Fire up the grill! This summer, your taste buds will flip over these healthy BBQ alternatives. Summer BBQs and grilling are typically associated with hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, and other animal proteins. But, it is possible to make vegetables taste just as good! Sure, you can swap out that beef patty for one that’s plant-based, but what about making vegetables the star of the grill? Check out our Guide to Healthy Grilling.
Grilling provides some great flavours to vegetables and fruits. Skew some mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and pineapple for a nice, healthier alternative to a meat kebab. Mesquite-type marinades give a great flavour and taste to grilled vegetables. For dessert, try a banana on the grill! Bananas sort of caramelize when grilled to create a deliciously sweet, healthier BBQ treat. Tropical fruits, generally speaking, are really good on the grill, even honeydew or cantaloupe. As for that classic BBQ tall glass of ice-cold lemonade, try water, or make your water fancy with some of the combos above.
As the barometer rises this summer, beat the heat with healthy eats! With so many fresh, local, and organic produce options available, there are lots of healthy foods to eat this summer. And, when you get the chance to raise your glass of cold, fruit and herb-filled water, be sure to celebrate the health of your family and loved ones. Cheers, to a happy, healthy summer!
There is little evidence that spicy food is hot countries is an adaptation to reducing infection risk. Nature Human Behaviour 2021 Feb 4.
Antimicrobial property, antioxidant capacity, and cytotoxicity of essential oil from cumin produced in Iran. J Food Sci 2010 Mar; 75(2):H54-61.
Hot stuff – do people living in hot climates like their food spicy hot or not? Temperature (Austin). 2016 Jan-Mar; 3(1):41-42.
Nutritional quality of organic, conventional, and seasonally grown broccoli using vitamin C as a marker. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2008 Feb;59(1):34-45.
Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environ Health 2017; 16:111.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.