June 2010 Issue

Make the Most of Summer — Five Heart-Smart Farm Stand Picks
By Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD, CSSD
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 12 No. 6 P. 54

Summer is an ideal time to speak to your clients about making seasonal selections to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that only 33% of adults meet the daily recommendation for fruit consumption and only 27% get the recommended vegetable servings.1

Local farmers’ markets provide seasonal choices and tasty ways to inspire clients to boost their fruit and veggie intake. A commentary in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association’s March issue notes that the number of farmers’ markets is on the rise in the United States and that buying local has become a popular consumer trend. David H. Holben, who authored the commentary, remarks that dietetic professionals can use this tendency to promote farmers’ markets in their practice and guide clients through the markets to make healthful decisions. As dietitians, we know and agree that farm stands are full of heart-healthy choices.

A Season of Good Eats
The following are five great summer picks and their potential health benefits:

1. Grapes: Your clients may have heard about wine’s cardiovascular benefits, but summer is a great time to remind them that fresh grapes also offer health benefits. Researchers hypothesize that the cardioprotective quality is partly due to the resveratrol and proanthocyanidins found in the skin of grapes.2 (Proanthocyanidins are present in the seeds as well.2) These phytonutrients are believed to protect LDL cholesterol from lipid peroxidation through their antioxidant properties, thereby attenuating atherosclerosis and ischemic heart disease.2

2. Cherries: Who doesn’t love tart, shiny cherries for an afternoon snack? Researchers from the Michigan Integrative Medicine program and Section of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Michigan Health System recently investigated tart cherries’ potential beneficial impact on biomarkers of metabolic syndrome. They assessed the effect of anthocyanin-rich tart cherries in the diet of Zucker rats, an animal model used for obesity and metabolic syndrome. The researchers combined whole tart cherry powder with a high-fat diet. After 90 days, results showed reductions in hyperlipidemia, the percentage of fat mass, abdominal fat weight, and markers of inflammation—all relevant in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.3

3. Seasonal veggies and salad fixings: During the summer, typical salad fixings are in season and are bountiful at the local farmers’ market. Greens, tomatoes, carrots, citrus fruits, and berries—all of which can be incorporated into a salad—provide polyphenols, carotenoids, and vitamin C, which may help lower inflammatory mediators and, therefore, the risk for cardiovascular disease.4 To support your salad recommendations, a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, “Salad and Raw Vegetable Consumption and Nutritional Status in the Adult U.S. Population: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III,” found that eating salad was significantly associated with a better overall nutritional status. Those who consumed salads also had significantly greater intakes of vitamins C and E, folic acid, and carotenoids.

4. Peaches: “Functional foods” and their potential health-promoting properties are on both dietitians’ and researchers’ radar screens. As a result, scientists have started evaluating the qualities and characteristics of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Peaches joined the functional food ranks in an investigation published in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Foods when Brazilian researchers quantified the peach’s antioxidant power (both skin and flesh). The results show that the peach possesses antioxidant properties and may provide health-promoting advantages.

5. Seasonal berries: Based on their antioxidant potency and polyphenolic content, blueberries have potential heart-healthy benefits, according to a 2010 report by Borges et al in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

A 2009 study by Ahmet et al from the National Institute on Aging investigated the cardioprotective characteristics of a blueberry-rich diet in ischemia-related myocardial injury using a rat model. The results reveal that a blueberry-enriched diet shelters the rat myocardium from induced ischemic damage and suggests potential protection from post-myocardial infarction chronic heart failure.

Another summer berry with a powerful antioxidant punch is the strawberry. Results from the Women’s Health Study show that strawberry intake is associated with a heart-healthy lifestyle and lower C-reactive protein levels. Strawberries also offer specific cardioprotective nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, fiber, and potassium as well as the flavonoids ellagic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol.

Tips for Boosting Fruit and Veggie Intake
Along with this list of heart-healthy, seasonal options, share the following ideas with clients who need help enhancing their fruit and vegetable consumption:

• Enette Larson-Meyer, RD, author of Vegetarian Sports Nutrition and assistant professor and director of the nutrition and exercise lab at the University of Wyoming, recommends creating a summer salad by starting with red leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, or mixed greens. She suggests adding dry-roasted nuts and fresh or dried fruit (eg, strawberries, blueberries, diced apples, figs, dried apricots). Larson-Meyer adds a final accent of flavorful cheeses such as fresh mozzarella, goat, feta, or gouda and an olive oil vinaigrette. For a complete meal, top with grilled chicken breast, salmon, or tofu, if desired. She notes that clients can serve this veggie delight with a hunk of fresh bread, available at some farmers’ markets.

Larson-Meyer also recommends using a variety of farm picks to create a meal. Combine fresh lima beans, roasted corn, and sliced tomatoes to make a sandwich on fresh rye bread, or create a vegetarian omelet of roasted chiles, peppers, onions, and spinach.

• Maggie Moon, MS, RD, corporate nutritionist for New York City-based online retailer FreshDirect.com, recommends creating a simple summer meal using fresh basil and tomatoes. Moon suggests combining chopped tomatoes, olive oil, and basil for a whole-grain pasta topper. She warns her clients to avoid basils that have flowered because they can taste slightly bitter.

Moon adds that while they are in season, strawberries, apricots, or peaches make a great “green” snack. She notes that they are at their tastiest when they have a brief storage time and short commute. For a simple antioxidant-rich burst, she recommends topping yogurt, salad, and cereal with fresh blueberries and strawberries.

• To get the whole family excited, Hope Barkoukis, PhD, RD, associate professor in the department of nutrition in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, recommends eating—and playing with—the fruit and vegetable theme. She suggests using paper bags, crayons, and pictures to craft vegetable or fruit puppets to spur children’s enthusiasm about these summer specialties.

• Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, the “Plant-Based Dietitian” and owner of To Your Health Fitness and Nutrition, includes recommendations for the whole family as well. She suggests a fun way to cool down and get healthy in the summer: Blend fresh berries with almond or rice milk and freeze them into popsicles.

Hever also recommends creating cold soups, such as a minted pea or gazpacho, for an invigorating and refreshing twist on lunch when the temperatures rise.

 For more ideas, visit the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s Web site at www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

— Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD, CSSD, is an author and nutrition communications consultant in Chicago.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Majority of Americans not meeting recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption. September 29, 2009. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2009/r090929.htm. Last accessed April 4, 2010.

2. Bertelli AA, Das DK. Grapes, wines, resveratrol, and heart health. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2009;54(6):468-476.

3. Seymour EM, Lewis SK, Urcuyo-Llanes DE, et al. Regular tart cherry intake alters abdominal adiposity, adipose gene transcription, and inflammation in obesity-prone rats fed a high fat diet. J Med Food. 2009;12(5):935-942.

4. Johnston C. Functional foods as modifiers of cardiovascular disease. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2009;3(1):39S-43S.