The summer heat can suffocate even the most voracious appetite. Cultures around the world each have their creative methods for staying cool -- spicy foods are the choice around the equator, while others drink hot tea to make their sweat glands work overtime.
But who wants to be sweaty when it's already sticky outside? What we want are some healthy, refreshing foods -- preferably snacks that satisfy those recommended daily allowances (RDA) for essential vitamins and minerals. So we talked to registered dietician Sharon Saka, of Suffern, New York, who says our best bet is to avoid hot foods and heavy meals, and take advantage of summer's fruits and vegetables. Saka recommends eating smaller amounts more often, and says staying hydrated is essential -- at least 6 to 8 cups of decaffeinated fluid a day -- especially if you're outside and exercising.
So here are 10 superfoods to help you stay cool this summer. And the best part: many of these snacks are great meals in themselves!
Kiwi, Papaya, Raspberry Fruit Salad
When the heat is on, just about any juicy fruit is refreshing and delicious. Kiwi, papaya, and raspberries are a powerful combination because they're each packed with cancer-fighting vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and beta-carotene. In fact, both kiwi and papaya rival oranges for their vitamin C content -- one kiwi contains 117 percent of the RDA and papaya a whooping 313 percent. Vitamin C is, of course, crucial to our immune system, and some studies show it may reduce high blood pressure.
Papaya and kiwi also add potassium to your diet, which helps your body stay hydrated, regulates your nerves, heartbeat, and blood pressure. And 67 percent of your RDA of vitamin K can be found in papaya. This under-rated vitamin is necessary for normal blood clotting, and it helps your body absorb calcium, which is especially important for people at risk for osteoporosis.
Raspberries win in the fiber category with 8 grams, and they're rich in vitamin C as well. In addition to its regulatory qualities, the right amount of fiber is linked to a decreased incidence of colon cancer, and it helps keep cholesterol levels lower. Now, add some protein to this fruit salad -- low-fat cheese perhaps? -- and you have a full meal.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 kiwi, about 46 calories 1 medium papaya, about 119 calories 1 cup raspberries, about 64 calories
Chickpeas and Green Salad
A crisp green salad is the perfect light dinner for steamy summer evenings, especially since no oven is required. Trade in your iceberg lettuce for spinach and get a Popeye-size dose of iron.
Add some chickpeas to it for a protein and fiber bonus, plus 20 percent of your daily folate needs. Folate is essential to red blood cell growth and has been shown to prevent birth defects if taken by pregnant women. Chickpeas are also rich in vitamin B6, which aids in the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and has been used by nutritionists for PMS relief. Mix in some cherry or grape tomatoes and you get more fiber, plus 19 percent of your vitamin A.
Recommended Serving Size: 1/3 cup of chickpeas, about 115 calories 3.5 oz. of spinach, about 24 calories 3.5 oz. of tomatoes, about 17 calories
Fruit Smoothies or Ice Pops
Here's another twist on using fruits to stay cool. Put those raspberries, papaya, and kiwi in a blender with some crushed ice for a smoothie that will make the heat a distant memory. Or put a pureed fruit mixture into ice-pop molds and put them in the freezer overnight for a frozen fast food treat whenever you're ready.
Crushed pineapple is a great frozen fruit snack too, especially since it's yet another good source of vitamin C and thiamin, a mineral that helps release the energy from carbohydrates and ensures that the brain and nerves have enough glucose.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 kiwi, about 46 calories 1 medium papaya, about 119 calories 1 cup raspberries, about 64 calories 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, about 59 calories
Tuna or Chicken Salad in a Green Pepper
A scoop of tuna or chicken salad in a green pepper is a simple summertime meal. Yellow, red, and orange peppers are all nutritious too, so pick whatever appeals to you. In addition to the protein in the tuna and chicken, you'll get fiber from the pepper, along with 159 percent of the RDA for vitamin C and some vitamin A too. Vitamin A, or retinol, is essential for healthy vision, skin, and growth.
Recommended Serving Size: 2 oz. of canned tuna or chicken and 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayo, about 160 calories 1 medium green pepper, about 24 calories
Cantaloupe and Ricotta Cheese
Having cantaloupe as part of any meal or snack can be wonderfully refreshing. And you'll get 108 percent of your vitamin A RDA and 98 percent of your vitamin C. Combine it with some ricotta cheese and you'll get protein, plus 17 percent of your calcium needs, equal to drinking a 1/2 cup of milk.
Ricotta is a delicious substitute for cottage cheese, and it's lower in sodium and calories. Try it on a slice of whole wheat bread or a small pita (both add fiber and iron), sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Or mix it into a fruit salad for a delectable dessert.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup cantaloupe, about 54 calories 1/4 cup part-skim ricotta, about 86 calories 1 slice whole wheat bread, about 69 calories 1 small whole wheat pita, about 74 calories