Feature Archive

Secret Summer Diet Foods

Slim down by enjoying these low-calorie fruits of summer

By Janice McDonald
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

The sun is shining, temperatures are rising. Summer is the time to shed layers of clothes, as well as some pounds. You could opt for a stringent diet regime, but what about simply enjoying all the wonderful foods the season brings? You'll still slim down, and do wonders for your health.

It's a natural trend to eat lighter during the summer, and you can easily do so without feeling deprived. If you follow the U.S. government's 2005 dietary guidelines of four-and-a-half cups of fruits and vegetables and three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy each day, you'll be getting plenty of naturally low-cal foods that are high in fiber, calcium, and important nutrients.

"Fiber helps in weight control because it promotes a feeling of satisfaction or satiety," explains Registered Dietitian Cheryl Orlansky, of the Computer Science Corporation. "High-fiber foods, eaten consistently, prevent that rebound effect of feeling full one minute and looking for something else to eat the next. It also helps modulate blood sugars by slowing down the digestion of sugars to prevent a quick surge into the bloodstream."

Much of summer's bounty has extra nutritional benefits you may not be aware of. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may slow aging, protect against cancer and stroke, improve blood pressure, and keep your heart healthy. And just about all are low-calorie, so your waistline stays in check, another big health benefit.

Ready to slim down with summer foods? Start your summer "diet" with these.

Tomatoes and Peppers for Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Lycopene

These powerhouses of nutrition are members of the fruit family, though thought of mostly as vegetables. Tomatoes and bell peppers of all colors deliver large amounts of vitamins A and C. A medium tomato, for example, is low in carbohydrates and has only has 35 calories but gives you 40% of the vitamin C and 20% of the vitamin A you need for the day.

Tomatoes have other benefits, too. "Consuming a diet rich in tomatoes has been shown to decrease the risk of prostate and other digestive tract cancer," says Emily Abercrombie, RD, LD, a clinical nutritionist at Atlanta's Emory Hospitals. This is because tomatoes and processed tomato products have high levels of a nutrient called lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that gives some fruits and vegetables their color.

Lycopene may prevent as well as treat several types of cancer. Research suggests it also may help prevent the LDL "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream from being converted to oxidized LDL that can form plaques in arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks.

Peppers have antioxidants too, such as beta carotene, which can help boost the immune system and prevent the cell damage that comes from free radicals, a natural byproduct of our bodies' normal functioning. Studies show damaged cells can lead to a number of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

Peppers also have plenty of vitamin C, even more than tomatoes. Just a half cup of the green, yellow, or red varieties have more than 230% of your daily vitamin C requirement. Keep some pepper strips on hand for a tasty calorie-controlled snack. A half cup of fresh peppers has only 20 calories.

Nothing says summer like the colorful array of berries that start showing up in your produce section at the grocery store. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries satisfy your sweet tooth and are rich in nutritional bonuses, such as vitamin C. Strawberries have the most vitamin C of any member of the berry family.

Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, of The Cleveland Clinic, says, "Berries are rich in a substance called ellagic acid, which acts as an antioxidant, helps the body deactivate specific carcinogens, and slows the reproduction of cancer cells. Berries may also help prevent urinary tract infections."

Abercrombie adds, "Berries are a good source of fiber, which in turn help in lowering cholesterol." She also notes that studies with blueberries show they can help improve memory.

Berries in general are convenient to eat, tasty, and easily eaten by themselves or mixed with yogurt for smoothies. Their per-serving calorie count can be as low as 45 calories. You can cook them, too, though that tends to break down the antioxidants. A "cool" way to preserve them? Pop them into the freezer, and eat them frozen for a refreshing snack.

Not so long ago, yogurt was considered something only health food junkies ate. Now, it is a dietary staple for many who enjoy the taste, convenience, low calories, and, yes, health benefits.


"Berries are a good source of fiber, which in turn help in lowering cholesterol."