There’s something special about eating in the summertime. Maybe because fruits and vegetables are at their best or perhaps it’s that eating en plein air strengthens our connection to nature and exposes us to sunlight, both of which are scientifically proven to help us feel happier.
As a nutritionist, I love the summer months, not only for the physical benefits of outdoor living, but also because I feel especially inspired to make healthy dishes and creative smoothies from the fresh produce brought home from the market (see Open-air food markets for healthier, seasonal local produce), much of which has functional effects that are particularly relevant for the season.
You may not have noticed but nature’s rhythms provide us with the appropriate resources just when we need them. Dehydration is a common health risk during the hotter months, especially for those who are more likely to lose body fluids quicker, like children, older adults and endurance athletes. Staying hydrated is a fundamental part of any summer activity, whether it’s a strenuous workout, beach volleyball or brisk walk along the coast. Even if you’re just sitting in the car on a long, hot ride, you’re still sweating more, so it’s easy to fall behind on your water intake. Fortunately, since many summer fruits and vegetables are over 90% water, we don’t actually have to drink it all – we can “eat” some of it, too. Strawberries, peaches, apricots, salad greens, courgettes, radishes, celery, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and spinach all contribute considerably to our fluid intake, helping prevent the headaches, poor concentration and sluggishness caused by dehydration.
What’s more, reaching for a piece of cucumber or watermelon after a workout can replenish your body twice as effectively as a glass of water or a sports drink. That’s because fruits and vegetables provide us with natural sugars, amino acids and nutrients that are lost in exercise, boosting the body’s absorption of fluids and preventing muscle cramps – without any of the artificial chemicals commonly found in sports drinks.
More time outside and at the beach means you need to take special care with your skin. Don’t let high SPF creams lull you into a false sense of security. Many popular sun protection products focus on blocking the UVB rays that cause sunburn while doing far too little to protect us from UVA rays – the ones that penetrate much deeper and have the potential to cause a lot more damage in terms of both ageing and serious forms of skin cancer. Studies show we’re now more likely to stay out in the sun longer because we don’t see any obvious signs of burning, so we absorb higher amounts of dangerous UVA rays. To make matters worse, many sunscreens contain chemicals that can actually damage skin tissue. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a brand without parabens or dioxanes.
Freshly made smoothies are an excellent way to keep skin dryness at bay, especially if you include raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. These antioxidant-rich berries contain alpha-hydroxy acids, natural exfoliators that help regenerate cells and prevent premature ageing of the skin. Always add some healthy fat, like avocado, coconut oil or almond butter to your smoothie, which not only enhances texture and richness, it helps curb cravings and facilitates the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. I like to add hemp and chia seeds as they contain protein to support skin structure and help maintain muscle mass, and also help replace calcium and magnesium – two important minerals often depleted by sweating.
So stay cool on the Riviera this summer and take advantage of nature’s supermarket.