There’s something extra special about summer produce. It’s sweet, juicy and full of flavor. Compare the taste of a tomato in the middle of winter with a fresh-off-the-vine tomato in August, and you’ll immediately notice a difference.
Not everyone has access to a garden in the backyard (although you may find one closer than you think, thanks to urban community gardens and farmer’s markets), but you can purchase your food based on seasonality, even at your local grocery store.
All produce follows a seasonal calendar, where foods are grown and harvested at different times of the year based primarily on the geographical climate. Our modern food system does mean you can find many foods all year round, but eating seasonally saves money and tastes better, making you more likely to eat it.
Eating these nutrient-dense foods also provides your body with a foundation for optimal health, including the vitamins and minerals you need for bone health.
Here are 5 tasty summer produce options, plus why they are so helpful for strong bones.
Summer produce contains bone supporting nutrients
It’s a win-win when food tastes delicious and contains essential nutrition for strong bones. Here are some of the nutrients you will find in summer produce:
- Calcium. Your primary bone-building mineral, calcium, helps to strengthen bones and teeth (NIH, 2018).
- Vitamin K. Vitamin K is needed for proper calcium absorption; low levels are associated with bone loss and fracture risk (Hao, 2017).
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps to convert Vitamin D into its active form and aids in calcium absorption and metabolism. (Castiglioni, 2013).
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed for collagen formation, which works to strengthen bones and connective tissues (Chin, 2018).
- Potassium. Potassium helps to balance calcium levels in the body and is linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis (Ha, 2020).
- Polyphenols and antioxidants. These naturally occurring chemical compounds act as antioxidants to protect against stress and inflammation that can weaken bones (Domazetovic, 2017).
5 summer produce picks for healthy bones
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries all offer a dose of Vitamin C, plus bone-healthy polyphenols and antioxidants. Studies show that a higher berry intake helps protect against age-related bone loss and supports higher bone mass (Hubert, 2018).
How to include more: Add a handful of berries to a yogurt parfait or your morning bowl of oats. Fresh berries also add a fun twist to summer salads, and frozen berries are always a great choice in smoothies.
Figs are fresh and juicy in the summer, so take advantage of their seasonality for a nutrient-dense snack. Figs provide loads of polyphenols plus calcium and magnesium for bone health. A systematic review found that the high mineral content of figs supports healthy bones and may reduce bone breakdown (Idris, 2018).
How to include more: Enjoy fresh figs as a snack paired with almonds or walnuts, or combine them with balsamic vinegar to create a delicious marinade. Fig preserves also make a fantastic spread on toast or as an addition to your cheese plate.
Lycopene, the bright red pigment found in tomatoes, is an antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation and protect against free radical damage. Studies show lycopene is associated with lower fracture rates (Sahni, 2009).
How to include more: Tomato season is at its peak in the summer, so take advantage of their freshness. Enjoy tomatoes on sandwiches, tacos, or salads. You can make a simple but delicious caprese salad with mozzarella (for an extra dose of calcium), basil, and tomatoes.
Fresh cucumbers contain vitamin K to help with calcium absorption and are a good source of potassium to balance the body’s electrolyte levels. Cucumbers are also one of the most hydrating vegetables—about 95% water (USDA).
How to include more: Slice cucumbers for snacks, add them to salads or make a cool and refreshing tzatziki dip. Cucumber slices are also a great addition to summer drinks for an extra dose of hydration.
5. Swiss Chard
This leafy green comes in many types, including the gorgeous colors of rainbow chard. Swiss chard contains many critical bone-building nutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K (USDA).
How to include more: Swiss chard can be sautéed with olive oil and garlic or added to soups and stews. You can also use Swiss chard instead of lettuce on sandwiches and wraps or slice the leaves and add them to pasta sauce for a nutrient boost.
Nutrition plus lifestyle habits can support your bone health
Including fresh summer produce is a delicious way to achieve an ideal diet for bone health and get the nutrients your bones need for optimal health. All the fruits and vegetables listed above offer a variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, plus critical minerals like calcium and magnesium.
There are many options beyond this list too! Don’t be afraid to experiment with foods you’ve never tried before. If you live near a farmer’s market, choose one of the options above, plus a new fruit or vegetable each week to experiment with. You may be surprised to find your new favorite food.
If cost, location or other factors make accessibility a concern, never fear: frozen produce is just as nutrient dense. You may lose a little flavor compared to fresh, but methods like flash freezing help retain nutrition while making it more cost-effective.
Nutrition is integral to bone strength, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Exercise and lifestyle habits are equally important for maintaining strong bones. Combining the exercises you need for healthy bones with healthy lifestyle choices can help improve your bone health wherever you are on your health journey.