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food for thought

While fresh vegetables are available year-round, there are advantages to eating vegetables (and fruit) when they’re in season. I love summer for its abundance of locally grown, farm-fresh vegetables. Locally grown produce is picked at its peak of ripeness, providing maximum flavour and nutrition.

The short time from field to table allows locally grown produce to retain vitamin C and B, nutrients susceptible to breakdown. Plus, buying local produce supports economic growth in your province.

Besides in-season favourites such as sweet corn, crispy lettuces and field tomatoes (botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits), include the following four oft-overlooked vegetables in your summer diet. Here are their defining nutritional qualities and tasty ways to add them to your diet.

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Swiss chard

Swiss chard supplies five times more magnesium (150 mg per one cup), almost six times more blood-pressure-regulating potassium (961 mg per cup) and four times more iron (4 mg per cup) than kale.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

When it comes to antioxidants, this leafy green vegetable outshines kale by a long shot. One cup of cooked Swiss chard, for example, delivers three times more vitamin E (3.3 milligrams), beta-carotene (6.4 mg) and lutein (19.3 mg), an antioxidant that helps guard against cataract and macular degeneration, than an equal-sized serving of kale. All that for only 35 calories a cup.

Swiss chard also supplies five times more magnesium (150 mg per one cup), almost six times more blood-pressure-regulating potassium (961 mg per cup) and four times more iron (4 mg per cup) than kale. It’s also an exceptional source of bone-building vitamin K, and provides brain-friendly choline.

Enjoy this leafy green sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chili flakes, or add raisins and pumpkin seeds to sautéed chard. Add Swiss chard leaves to smoothies, green salads, pastas, soups, omelettes and shakshuka (a Mediterranean dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce).

Peak season: July through September.

Artichokes

The edible parts of artichokes are the bottoms of the leaves and their tender interiors, the hearts.Giuseppe Lombardo/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Globe artichokes, best grown close to the Great Lakes or in cooler regions in Ontario, serve up a good amount of fibre, magnesium, potassium and choline.

Artichokes’ claim to fame, though, is their exceptional folate content, a B vitamin that makes DNA in cells and helps prevent birth defects that affect the spinal cord and brain. One half-cup of artichoke hearts supply nearly 20 per cent of a day’s worth of folate.

The edible parts of artichokes are the bottoms of the leaves and their tender interiors, the hearts. Steam or grill artichokes. Enjoy cooked artichoke leaves dipped in a garlic or chipotle aioli. Serve grilled artichoke halves as a healthy side dish.

Add cooked artichoke hearts to pizza, frittatas or a summer vegetable lasagna. Make an artichoke pesto to spread on sandwiches or serve as an appetizer.

Peak season: August through October.

Eggplant

Eggplant is a decent source of manganese, a trace mineral that’s needed for nerve and brain function.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Its purple-coloured skin is a sign that eggplant is a good source of anthocyanins, phytochemicals thought to have anti-diabetes, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Eating more anthocyanin-rich foods may also help protect from heart disease and stroke.

And eggplant is a decent source of manganese, a trace mineral that’s needed for nerve and brain function. Manganese also helps antioxidant enzymes in the body neutralize harmful free radical molecules.

Add grilled eggplant to a grilled vegetable platter or toss it into a summer pasta with cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Make eggplant parmigiana with slices of grilled eggplant instead of breaded and fried eggplant.

Make mini margherita pizzas using eggplant slices as the “crust.” Store eggplant in a cool, dry area; avoid keeping it in the refrigerator.

Peak season: August through October.

Radicchio

Radicchio is an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient that studies suggest may help guard against osteoporosis and hip fracture.Mila Drumeva/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

This chicory vegetable with burgundy leaves and white veins contains anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, along with vitamin E and lutein. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient that studies suggest may help guard against osteoporosis and hip fracture.

Add radicchio to coleslaws, toss it into salads or use it as a pizza topping. Radicchio can also be sautéed, roasted or grilled.

Cut a head of radicchio in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil and then grill or roast; drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.

Peak season: June through August.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

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