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20 Summer Foods That Are Healthier Than You Thought

Reap these amazing health benefits from your favorite summer foods.

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Watermelon

This beloved thirst quencher is packed with vitamins A and C, potassium, and the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene, according to webmd.com. It’s also one of the richest natural sources of the amino acid L-citrulline, which helps regulate arterial function and may lower blood pressure, as discovered by researchers in a 2010 Florida State University study. Next, check out 6 delicious ways to transition your favorite comfort foods to summer.

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Shrimp

Throw 'em on the barbie! Yes, shrimp contain cholesterol. But the cholesterol you consume from food plays a negligible effect on cholesterol in your bloodstream. (That number tends to spike in response to a higher intake of certain saturated and trans fats.) Shrimp is also high in protein, low in fat, and a good source of heart-protective omega-3s and vitamin B12, according to Outside magazine.

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Corn

Your eyes love corn on the cob. Corn is a good source of lutein, a powerful antioxidant that may help lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in older adults. Cooking sweet corn unleashes beneficial antioxidants that can substantially reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, according to a study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. The longer the corn was cooked, the higher the antioxidants.

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Celery

Next time you serve celery in your barbecue crudité platter, crunch on this: Celery boasts a surprising array of good-for-you nutrients, including anti-inflammatory compounds that soothe your digestive tract, disease-fighting antioxidants, and vitamins such as folate, vitamin K, and vitamin C.

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Sunflower seeds

Take these out to the ballgame (or golf course). Sunflower seeds are a terrific source of vitamin E—a quarter cup provides more than 90 percent of your daily need, according to the Chicago Tribune. They also offer a healthy dose of such key minerals as manganese, magnesium, and selenium. Here are 15 summer superfoods for gorgeous skin.

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Sauerkraut

Go ahead, pile it on that hot dog. Fermented foods like sauerkraut are a unique source of probiotics, which help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. “These healthy microbes help with digestion and nutrient absorption,” writes Darya Pino Rose, PhD, in her book Foodist. “Without them our gut health deteriorates substantially, setting the stage for many chronic diseases.” Many new studies are fingering gut bacteria as a key player in many health conditions, from obesity to allergies. These are other foods that boost good gut bacteria levels.

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Mushrooms

Cooking Light notes that mushrooms are the only vegetable source of vitamin D; and “many compounds have been identified in mushrooms that show potential for boosting immunity and possibly protecting against cancer,” says Pino Rose in Foodist. Next time you're craving a meatless barbecue option, try grilling up a portobello mushroom instead of a veggie burger.

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Coffee

Ahhh, iced coffee. You'll be glad to hear just how healthy your favorite summer cool-down drink is. Coffee contains polyphenol antioxidants that may help even out blood sugar levels. The Harvard School of Public Health found that women who drank just one cup of coffee a day had a 13 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Coffee consumption is also linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, liver disease, and Parkinson’s disease. A Harvard Medical School study even shows that coffee intake may help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

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Apricots

The beta-carotene in apricots may help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Some studies suggest that consuming high levels of vitamin A may reduce the risk of developing cataracts by up to 40 percent. Apricots are also a particularly good source of potassium, a mineral essential for proper nerve and muscle function that also helps maintain normal blood pressure and balance of body fluids. Check out these 3 healthy recipes that release fat.

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Mustard

You may be surprised to learn that this beloved condiment is way more than a hot dog topper. Mustard contains selenium, a mineral with antioxidants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease, boost your immune system, and protect against certain cancers. It’s also a source of magnesium, which can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.

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Cherries

Get ready to pucker up because an FDA study found adults who consumed 1.5 cups of tart cherries had increased levels of antioxidants, specifically anthocyanins, which combat inflammatory diseases and heart conditions. Plus, sour cherries are a great source of the soluble fiber pectin, which helps level out blood cholesterol. Sour cherries also the flavonoid quercetin, which may help prevent cancer.

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Peanuts and peanut butter

Perfect for baseball games and picnics, peanuts are rich in plant compounds called sterols, one of the best cholesterol busters. They’re also a great source of protein, fiber, and vitamin E. Just be sure to avoid peanut butters with added sugar, salt, or trans fats, and choose unsalted peanuts to cut down on sodium.

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Papaya

This tropical fruit contains fiber that can bind to cancer-causing toxins in the colon, and prevent them from affecting healthy colon cells. Plus, the folate and beta-carotene found in papayas are associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer.

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Plums and prunes

Plums' beautiful color comes from thocyanins, antioxidant pigments that can help eliminate free-radicals that cause cellular damage. Plus, they can help prevent bone loss. A 2011 University of Florida study found that postmenopausal women who took calcium supplements with prunes had significantly less bone loss than those who did not consume prunes, thanks to high levels of potassium and vitamin K. Plus, prunes are a great natural alternative to over-the-counter laxatives, according to a University of Iowa study.

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Peaches

The flesh of peaches (and nectarines) is rich in antioxidants that help to protect against cancer and other chronic diseases. Watching your weight? Peaches are a healthy way to add sweets to your diet; because they're a good source of dietary fiber, they keep you full and satisfied.

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Avocados

Bring on the guac! Although one half-cup serving of avocado contains 120 calories (100 of them from fat), avocados contain healthy fat and are rich in plant sterols that lower cholesterol. Healthy monounsaturated fats (like those in avocado and oil) also help your body absorb antioxidants that fight cancer, such as lycopene and beta-carotene. They also contain vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folate. Here are 3 summer foods that relieve belly bloat — and 6 you should steer clear of.

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Zucchini

One cup of raw sliced zucchini has 20 calories and provides 28 mcg of folate, about 7 percent of the adult RDA, as well as 12 mg of vitamin C and 250 mg of potassium. Zucchini's fiber and high water content make it a perfect veggie to help sate your appetite.

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Bell peppers

Both the vitamin C and beta-carotene in peppers help to prevent atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease. Vitamin C also helps protect against infection and contributes to healthy bones, teeth, hair, and skin. One medium green pepper provides more than 100 percent of the adult RDA for vitamin C. And red peppers provide 50 percent more vitamin C than green ones!

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Radishes

Summer radishes have a more intense peppery flavor than those cultivated during spring or fall. Like other cruciferous veggies, radishes supply sulfurous compounds that may protect against cancer. One study of about 1,500 people in Poland found a particularly strong decrease in the risk of stomach cancer among those who consumed the most radishes and onions.

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Tomatoes

We saved the best for last. If your garden gifts you with a bounty of tomatoes, pretty much your entire body will benefit. A well-known Harvard study showed that men who regularly ate tomato-based foods had lower rates of prostate cancer. Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, is a natural cancer-fighting agent in tomatoes. The jellylike substance surrounding tomato seeds is high in salicylates, which have an anti-clotting effect on the blood. This may be responsible for tomatoes' protection against heart disease. Don't miss these 11 delicious summer foods that could help you slim down.

Excerpted from the book Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal.