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Healthy Recipes for Summer's Freshest Ingredients

You don't have to be bashful about wearing your bathing suit this summer, because there's no shortage of healthy, low-calorie produce sprouting at a farmers' market near you. Take your pick!

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Smell is the best indicator of ripeness for this vitamin A-mazing fuzzy fruit, so simply stick your nose into the barrel at the farmers' market to pick a perfect peach. Another good sign? The flesh slightly indents when you press it. And since peaches are very perishable, don't buy more than you can eat in a day or two. But by all means, indulge!

Nutritional information
1 cup, sliced: 60 calories, 0g fat, 15g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Grilled Peach and Pecan Salad

MAKE IT: Pepper and Peach Fajita Chicken

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Touted for their exotic sweetness and terrific taste, mangoes have obtained an almost holy status in India, where some brush their teeth with the twig of the fruit on sacred days. But you don't have to resort to such practices to round up this fruit's benefits -- simply ingesting one will provide you with at least 20 percent of your daily needs of vitamin C, says Sari Greaves, RD, National Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Nutritional information
1 cup, sliced: 107 calories, 0g fat, 28g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Halibut with Mango Salsa

MAKE IT: Homemade Mango Lime Sorbet

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That rich blue hue is color code for high antioxidant activity, which means that blueberries benefit your body by reducing the risk of disease, slowing the aging process, and fortifying your heart. While that goes for all blueberries -- no matter how large, small, sweet, or sour -- make sure the ones you choose are deep blue-black, not red, and look dry and firm. "Stay away from containers of berries with juice stains, which may be a sign that the berries are crushed and possibly moldy," says Greaves.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 84 calories, 0g fat, 21g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Blueberry Oatmeal

MAKE IT: Blueberry-Orange Mini Loaves

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Summer Squash

Squash your childhood memories of vegetables as boring, because the many shapes and sizes of this healthy winner will keep things interesting. Be it short, long, skinny, or bulbous, what's catching your eye in any formation is a low-calorie treat that's high in beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and other nutrients. Choose summer squash that has a glossy exterior and is firm to the touch and heavy for its size, says Greaves.

Nutritional information
1 cup, sliced: 18 calories, 0g fat, 4g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Lemon Basil Pasta with Summer Squash

MAKE IT: Herbed Summer Salad

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Although it's often nicknamed "the pie plant," if you've never eaten rhubarb outside of dessert, summer's the perfect time to put this vegetable into sauces and side dishes. It delivers a healthy dose of vitamin C and potassium, which helps maintain muscle strength and contributes to low blood pressure. Be careful, though, to never eat the leaves of rhubarb. They contain oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.

Nutritional information
1 cup, diced: 26 calories, 0g fat, 6g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 1g protein

TRY IT: Spoon this rhubarb salsa over grilled white fish. Blanch 2 cups diced rhubarb in boiling water and then rinse. Combine with red and green peppers and cilantro. Stir in 2 scallions and 1 chili pepper. Add the juice of 1 lime, a spoonful of brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Go figure -- this Mediterranean diet fixture contains soluble fiber which has been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol. But they're ultra-delicate, so avoid bruising them by handling the fruit as little as possible when choosing which figs to purchase. Instead, use smell as your guide or ask for a taste.

Nutritional information
1 medium fig: 37 calories, 0g fat, 10g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 0g protein

MAKE IT: Banana Fig and Walnut Bread

MAKE IT: Roasted Halibut and Cheese Ravioli

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Okra is oh-so-misunderstood -- this Southern staple is often masked as a vehicle for pork fat or deep frying. But prepare it nutritiously and one 1/2-cup serving fulfills 20 percent of your daily need of vitamin C. Just make sure you eat it fresh -- this is one food that can lose its texture and taste if it's been frozen.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 31 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 2g protein

TRY IT: Pair this side dish with grilled chicken. Add one pound of sliced okra to a pan. Cover with water and cook for 5 minutes. Add one 14.5-ounce can of stewed tomatoes, 1 green pepper and 2 tablespoons of chopped onion. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Chew on this: 50 percent of your daily needs of vitamins A and C can be met with just one 1/2 cup of cantaloupe. Plus, cantaloupe yields the most beta-carotene in the entire melon family. But much like many munchables at the farmers' market, when selecting cantaloupe make sure it doesn't have cracks, dark spots, or bruises, which signal that the fruit has lost some of its nutrients.

Nutritional information
1 cup: 54 calories, 0g fat, 14g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Spinach Ham and Melon Salad

MAKE IT: Honey-Whipped Cottage Cheese with Melon

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Pears have no cholesterol or saturated fat, but when summer spawns this juicy fruit, they often taste as good as the indulgent treats that do. Varieties like Anjou, Bartlett, and Bosc are so sweet, we forget about the fantastic fiber and vitamin source we are eating. "The pear provides more nutrients per calorie than many other fruits," says Greaves. Pears are an especially good source of muscle-fortifying potassium, which is an element that is easily lost when we are dehydrated during the warmer months.

Nutritional information
1 medium pear: 103 calories, 0g fat, 28g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Toast with Walnut and Pear Spread

MAKE IT: Spiced Red Wine-Poached Pears

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This edible beauty tool keeps skin looking radiant because it contains vitamin C and caffeic acid -- both of which help soothe swelling and irritation. And cucumbers make any light summer dish, in a word, delish!

Nutritional information
1 cucumber: 45 calories, 0g fat, 11g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 2g protein

MAKE IT: Salmon with Cucumber-Dill Salad

MAKE IT: Fish with Fresh Dill

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Summer is practically synonymous with tomatoes -- at least at the farm stand. And the abundance of this fruit is a good thing because tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a phytonutrient touted for lowering our cancer risk. To be sure you are getting the most of this nutrient, eat red tomatoes, not orange ones, and cook them, which releases the lycopene tucked inside, advises Greaves.

Nutritional information
1 medium tomato: 22 calories, 0g fat, 5g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 1g protein

MAKE IT: Garlic Roasted Tomatoes

MAKE IT: Tomatoes & Ravioli with Escarole

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Not that you need another reason to eat heart-healthy avocados, but since they are grown stateside come the summer months in Florida and California, buying them now is more eco-friendly than purchasing the imports from Mexico or Central or South America.

Nutritional information
1 avocado: 324 calories, 29g fat, 17g carbohydrates, 13g fiber, 4g protein

MAKE IT: Mini Turkey-Avocado Wrap

MAKE IT: Guacamole Veggie Burger with Peapods, Carrots, and Low-Fat Ranch

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It pays to be picky about your cherries. Select ones that are large and look for a green stem color. Research suggests that tart cherries (grown in Michigan) contain significant amounts of melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain that has been credited with slowing the aging process and fighting insomnia. Like tomatoes, cherries contain lycopene, an antioxidant known to fight cell changes that can cause cancer and other diseases.

Nutritional information
1 cup sweet cherries: 87 calories, 0g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 1g protein 1 cup sour cherries: 77 calories, 0g fat, 19g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 2g protein

Originally published on, April 2009.

MAKE IT: Cherry Oatmeal Squares

MAKE IT: Frozen Cherry Almond Trifle

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