Now that summer is in full swing, warm temperatures – and even an occasional heat wave like the one blanketing the East Coast this week – are par for the course. And while it's always important to stay hydrated, it's even more vital to meet daily fluid requirements when temperatures soar, especially if you're active.
[Read: Healthy Drinks for Summer.]
The good news is that while you can meet most – about 80 percent – of your daily water needs from beverages (plain or seltzer water, 100 percent fruit juice, milk and even a few cups of coffee or unsweetened iced tea), the other 20 percent can be met by filling your plate, bowl or cup with delicious fruits and vegetables.
For most adults, current dietary guidelines suggest at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily. Those who are active can afford to have even more to meet both their nutrient and fluid needs.
To help you beat the heat this summer and beyond, I asked some food and nutrition gurus about their favorite summer produce. Responses have been edited.
• Claudia Zapata, MS, RD, San Antonio, Tex.-based dietitian and blogger
Why I love it: My family and I love the flavor of fresh asparagus, but the easy prep is also a huge draw.
Why it's good for you: In ancient times, asparagus was thought to have healing and cleansing properties – it was even considered to be an aphrodisiac. Low in calories, but chock-full of nutrients, asparagus is rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, folate and several minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It is also a good source of fiber.
How I eat it: I trim off the woody ends and enjoy asparagus roasted or grilled. If it's thicker, or I'm serving a large crowd, I first blanch the asparagus. Then I toss it on the grill or grill pan with just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grated lemon zest also adds nice flavor.
[Read: Try These Easy 15-Minute Meals.]
Why I love it: What's not to love about this amazing fruit? Avocado is delicious eaten alone but also pairs well with most everything and can easily take a dish from good to great. Admittedly, I have an "I heart avocado" Pinterest board.
Why it's good for you: Avocado is known to contain heart-healthy fats, but it's also a rich source of nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, E and K, B vitamins, folic acid and potassium. The fiber and protein in avocado also helps keep you fuller longer, and the fats help the body absorb carotenoids, which protect against cell damage, like beta-carotene and lycopene from other foods.
How I eat it: A good avocado doesn't need much more than a little sea salt, but my favorite way to enjoy it is in sandwiches (used in place of mayonnaise). I also enjoy adding small amounts of cubed avocado to greens, grains or legumes. I especially love it tossed with cherry tomatoes and basil.
[See: Unusual Uses for Avocados.]
• Robyn Webb, author of the award-winning cookbook, "The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook," and Alexandria, Va.-based culinary instructor
Why I love it: Broccolini is more tender and sweet than broccoli. It also cooks up faster than broccoli and looks absolutely beautiful when plated.
Why it's good for you: Broccolini is low in calories and sodium and has no fat. It's also an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin A.
How I eat it: I steam one bunch of broccolini until tender (about six to seven minutes) and then drain it. While it's cooking, I make a dressing by whisking together 2 tablespoons of champagne vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 minced garlic clove and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. In a thin stream, I whisk in 3 tablespoons of walnut oil, whisking constantly until it's emulsified. Then I drizzle the dressing over the cooked broccolini and top it with 1 tablespoon each of finely-chopped red bell pepper and toasted, chopped walnuts.
Why I love it: I love kale because it's sturdier and heartier than many other greens. It also cooks up with very little shrinkage.
Why it's good for you: Kale is a cruciferous vegetable that's loaded with vitamins K, A and C. It's also a good source of fiber, provides some calcium and other key nutrients and is a good source of antioxidants that can protect against cancer and other ailments.
How I eat it: I saute 2 sliced garlic cloves on medium-low heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then I add 3 cups of washed, stemmed, chopped kale and saute it for two minutes. I add 1 to 2 teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, and saute for one to two minutes.
• David Grotto, RDN, LDN, of Elmhurst, Ill. and author of "The Best Things You Can Eat."
Why I love it: Water-rich watermelon is a natural hydrator. And its unique texture makes it simply irresistible!
Why it's good for you: A one-cup serving of watermelon contains lots of lycopene, a member of the carotenoid family, which may benefit prostate health. The white part of the rind also contains the amino acid citrulline that boosts production of nitric oxide, helping keep arteries open to allow healthy blood flow.
How I eat it: I love to eat watermelon when it's cut into 1-inch wedges that are ice cold. I also enjoy it cubed as part of a Tuscan fruit salad with mixed berries, a splash of wine and a pinch of sugar. I also like to add crushed watermelon to seltzer water or add watermelon cubes to water to make "spa water" – either are especially refreshing on a hot afternoon.
Check back in with Eat + Run on Friday for more foods to help beat the heat!
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. You can connect with her on twitter (@elisazied) and through her new Stressipes forum on her website: www.elisazied.com.