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Cherries, peaches, raspberries and watermelon are healthy foods to satisfy your sweet tooth in the summer. This handy guide offers information on picking the best summer fruits and the nutritional benefits of each:
Whether you like them sweet or sour, there's only a brief window of time to enjoy fresh cherries. While sweet cherries are often sold fresh, most of the sour-cherry crop, also called "pie" cherries, is canned, dried or frozen.
What You Get: Cherries are rich in antioxidants: anthocyanidins, which bolster antioxidant defenses, and quercetin, which may help regulate blood pressure. They're also a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C.
Shopping Tips: Sweet cherries can be found in the produce section of most markets during cherry season. Sweet-cherry varieties include Bing, Rainier and Lambert.
Sour cherries, which are too tart to eat out of hand, are most often used as pie filling. Find them frozen, canned and dried in most supermarkets; they are more difficult to find fresh. Varieties include Early Richmond, Montmorency and Morello.
Select cherries that are firm, plump and shiny without soft spots or bruising.
Storage Tip: Store fresh cherries in the refrigerator as soon as possible after purchase.
Now that summer is here, get your fill of fresh peaches. Toss some in your morning yogurt or breakfast cereal, bake some into a pie or tart, experiment with savory recipes for main dishes or sides, or merely eat them on the go, juice running down your chin and, without a doubt, a smile on your face.
What You Get: Besides amazing flavor, peaches are packed with natural goodness from vitamins A, C and potassium. They're also a good source of antioxidants, beta carotene (which gives them their deep yellow color) and flavonoids, which may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and heart disease. Plus with only 60 calories each and plenty of fiber, they're a calorie-counter's dream.
Shopping Tips: Choose peaches with a "peachy" scent, slightly sweet and flowery. Ripe peaches will give a little when gently pressed.
The red or blush color on the skin is a characteristic of variety, not ripeness.
Avoid any peaches that are overly green--they were picked too early and won't ripen properly.
Never squeeze peaches, as they will bruise.
Storage Tip: If your peaches need ripening, set them in a single layer on the counter, not stacked, and allow to ripen for a day or so at room temperature. Once ripe, transfer them to the refrigerator and use within a week.
Pop a few juicy raspberries in your mouth and enjoy a sweet-sour sensation of summer anytime. Delicious unadorned, they're easily adapted for sweet or savory dishes.
What You Get: Raspberries are a great source of fiber--some of it soluble in the form of pectin, which helps lower cholesterol--and an excellent source of vitamin C. The gorgeous red color is from anthocyanins, an antioxidant.
Shopping Tips: Choose juicy-looking, brightly colored fruit, as raspberries do not continue to ripen once picked.
If the hulls are still attached, don't buy the berries--they were picked too early and will be sour.
As with all berries, check raspberries often for signs of mold or spoilage.
Storage Tips: Fresh raspberries are fragile and highly perishable. Store them in the refrigerator and use within two days.
To wash raspberries, gently spray with a fine mist just before using--the weight of water pouring from a faucet may crush them.
Experience a quintessential summer pleasure: take a big bite from a slice of watermelon and then spit the seeds as far as you can. Redolent with tangy sweetness, watermelon is refreshing without being filling.
What You Get: Watermelon averages 40 percent more of the cancer-fighter lycopene per serving than tomatoes. Lycopene in watermelon is easily absorbed without cooking, unlike that in tomatoes, and is relatively stable when the fruit is stored and refrigerated. Watermelon is also a good source of vitamins A and C, and provides some vitamin B6, beta carotene, thiamin and potassium.
Shopping Tips: Watermelon should be firm and symmetrical, without bruises, cuts or dents.
It should feel heavy for its size and have a creamy yellow spot on the one side of the melon where it sat on the ground to ripen in the sun.
Precut melon flesh should be dense, firm and appear moist.
Storage Tips: Wash whole watermelons in clean, running water and dry before eating to remove surface dirt. When purchasing cut watermelon, wash and dry the rind.
Watermelon temperature should be maintained--if it is purchased at room temperature, it should be stored at room temperature. If the melon was refrigerated at the supermarket, do so at home, as well.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)