5 Vegan Superfoods Nutritionists Want You to Eat for Your Health This Summer
So, dear masters of spring superfoods, are you ready for your next challenge? Yes, yes you are. With summer rapidly approaching, now is the time to embrace these plant-based superfoods that are ideal for summer meals. Read on, and get excited for some eats that are wildly tasty yet brimming with wholesomeness.
1. Dark Berries and Cherries
In the summer, we’re talking cherries, blueberries, and blackberries, and in addition to being one heck of a summer fruit salad trio, they also happen to be nutritional powerhouses. “Dark berries have been shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline. Antioxidants in dark berries help fight oxidative stress on the body, which can happen in your brain. Antioxidants inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory markers like cytokines and CRP, and work against harmful reactive oxygen species in the body,” remarks Kostro Miller. “Diets that are rich in antioxidants can help reduce pain (i.e. joint pain), help your body function more effectively and may even help preserve cognitive function in the long term,” she continues, adding that one study found that the equivalent of one cup of blueberries per day improved cognition in older adults better than a placebo.
While You're At It, Add Strawberries
You know the feeling: An annoying email from your boss or a spat with a family member over the foibles of face masks and a day pivots from A-OK to awful. And then you dip into a bowl of fresh strawberries at their peak ripeness and all is well with the world. More reason to munch away? “They contain vitamin A, C, and one of the highest natural sources of folates. They also contain flavonoids, anthocyanins and phenolic acids, which are compounds shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications, cancers and other conditions,” says Mark Windle, BSc, RD, nutritionist for Fitness Savvy. “The phenol compounds in strawberries detoxify free radicals thus preventing oxidative stress on the body and reduce cellular damage. The strawberry's antioxidant properties mean that diets high in them may protect the body from damage to the coronary artery vessel walls, which would otherwise make cholesterol plaques form easier, and cause the arteries to fur up.”
Tomatoes have gotten a bad rap from people who avoid lectins, but there is little evidence that lectins are harmful unless you have a specific allergy to them, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Tomatoes are high in vitamins, high in water and have valuable fiber. Foods that are high in water and fiber can help you stay full for several hours and they help keep you regular. If you’re trying to lose weight, tomatoes are very low in calories,” says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living. On the antioxidant front, tomatoes also deliver big time. “Tomatoes contain carotenoids [a type of antioxidants] which can help reduce your risk of macular degeneration and reduce your risk of certain cancers. They work to reduce damage from free radicals. One of the most notable carotenoids in tomatoes is lycopene. Tomatoes also contain vitamin C, which plays a role in immunity, collagen rebuilding for fortifying muscles/bones, and aiding in iron absorption.
You don’t have to tell us twice to eat guac and cut up extra slices to stack onto burgers, hummus sandwiches, and, yes, toast, but it may very well be a good idea to find more excuses to eat avocados (think: slip them in smoothies, add them to salads, slice them atop your grain bowl) given their nutritional prowess. “They are high in fat, but as part of a healthy plant-based diet, remember three-quarters of it is as monounsaturates (shown to prevent heart disease and regulate blood pressure),” says Windle. “Avocados are also a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E (another cardioprotective nutrient), and higher in soluble fiber than most other fruits—soluble fiber helps reduce LDL cholesterol levels which are the type that lines the arteries. Whilst the jury is still out on whether specifically eating avocados directly reduces LDL cholesterol, intake has been shown to increase the favorable HDL: LDL cholesterol level.” For more on avocados and fats, read this article.
4. Plant-Based Yogurt
It’s summer, live a little, and have those berries or that oatmeal with some creamy dollops of yogurt. Trader Joe's just added two new flavors of vegan yogurt made from almond milk to its shelves just in time for summer treat season but with 10 to 12 grams of added sugar do think of them as treats. “Forager Project Cashewmilk Yogurt is one of my favorite summertime superfoods,” offers Jenna Gorham, RD of Gorham Consulting Group. “They use live and active cultures, offering plant-based probiotics. Probiotics can support a healthy immune system as well as healthy digestion. [It] tastes great in smoothies, fresh berry parfaits, and summer dips and sauces.” For more great yogurt recs, check out our review of 12 dairy-free yogurts.
5. Walnuts for Omega-3s
Just because you’ve ditched fish, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to get omega-3s into your plant-based diet with a little extra effort. Hello, walnuts. A one-ounce serving of walnuts provides 2.5 grams of Alpha-linolenic acid, which is known to have major health benefits, including to your mood and your lipids, protective. “Large amounts of omega-3 rich foods are trickier to incorporate in the vegan diet, not only because rich sources are harder to come by but also because in plant sources it is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), whereas the positive effects are primarily in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), normally found in marine oils (such as fish),” says Windle.
The Omega-3s in walnuts "can be used by the body however to make EPA, which in turn can convert to DHA. In a study of 100 women attending a fertility clinic who were struggling to conceive, those who had higher levels of blood omega-3 fatty acids (seen as a marker of dietary intake) had higher rates of live birth,” he adds. Windle is a fan of adding walnuts to summer salads or adding them into a vegan banana bread recipe, like this one from actor Mayim Bialik.