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Fresh produce key to well-balanced diets in summer months

With a number of fresh food options available in the warm summer months, local nutrition professionals are recommending the nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.

“In the summer, just like any other time of year, it is always important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products,” said Brittney Zack, a clinical dietician at the Uniontown Hospital. “Foods high in added sugar and saturated/trans fats should be incorporated into meals sparingly.”

In particular, Zack recommended several substitutions that might make for a healthier, appealing item on your summer menu.

An easy one is swapping a frozen Popsicle for an apple.

“An apple will provide fiber plus many vitamins and minerals along with its naturally-occurring sugars, while a Freeze Pop is only providing empty calories in the form of processed and added sugars,” Zack added.

For those looking to cool down with a more healthful frozen option, Edith Shreckengast, a clinical/sports dietitian with Excela Health’s Well Being Center for Mind/Body Health, suggests a frozen yogurt pop.

Any combination of fruit can be used, along with any shape or mold available. Her favorite is a combination of watermelon, lime and blueberries.

“It’s a quick treat to get out of the freezer, and it’s also sweet,” she said.

When social hour and BBQs occur, Shreckengast recommended bringing kabobs.

“You can get all colors of veggies — zucchini, summer squash, onions, broccoli, etc.,” she said. Grilled pizza, or adding veggies to any pizza, is a fun substitution.

Zack also suggested trying grilled fruit.

“Grilling fruit such as peaches, pineapple, pears and even bananas caramelizes some of the fruits’ naturally-occurring sugars, bringing out savory flavors that would not normally be found from eating them raw,” Zack said.

According to Shreckengast, it’s all about looking at the bigger picture.

“It’s about being more mindful,” she said. “Have fun! Enjoy summer veggies and fruits.”

When it comes to including the family, she also advised including children in picking out healthier food options. Farmer markets in particular can be fun activities, she said.

“Of course, we are going to give in to some unhealthy temptations during the summer, with the plethora of food-centered events it always seems to contain,” Zack said.

In those situations, though, Zack said it’s important to fill a plate with a variety of foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains, and to use good judgment.

Shreckengast noted that it’s important to make your summer meals — or any meals for that matter — ones to nourish and energize your body.

“That’s my number one thing,” she said. She also stressed getting enough fiber, which is often lacking in westernized diets.

“If you think a food is ‘bad for you’, then it probably is,” Zack said. “If there is a question about this, check its Nutrition Facts label or ask the person who made it what ingredients it contains. As I have preached in the past and will continue to preach in the future: Everything in moderation.”

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