- Marie Belzile-Davidson, MS, RDN, LD
4 Summer Veggies that are Delicious, Nutritious, and Easy to Cook with!
Summer is here and with it comes an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce! While there are multiple veggies to pick from at the farmers' market or in the produce aisle, some tend to get overlooked. I'm talking about beets, eggplant, radishes, and zucchini (1).
These aren't exactly the most common vegetables on a veggie platter or in a shared dish at summer get-togethers, but that might change after you check out the recipes below. Just because these veggies aren't as popular doesn't mean they have less to offer when it comes to nutrition and taste!
Let's take a look at each of these vegetables, what health benefits they have to offer, and how you can easily incorporate them into a summer meal. Disclaimer: If you're already a fan of beets, eggplants, radishes, and/or zucchini and regularly cook with them, be sure to still read on - we've got some tasty recipes for you to try!
Beets, also known as beetroot, may look unassuming but they're little nutrient-packed gems! They're rich in beneficial phytochemicals, which is just a fancy way of saying they have active compounds that can positively impact our bodies and health. Some of the phytochemicals found in beets include betalains, flavanoids, and polyphenols (2, 4, 5).
Together, these phytochemicals can help reduce inflammation and act as antioxidants. In fact, beets have relatively high antioxidant activity compared to other vegetables (2, 4, 5). Quick reminder: antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by oxidants. Oxidants can come from a variety of places, including everyday environmental toxins to natural byproducts we make as our bodies function normally. Antioxidants are the hero of the story - they neutralize these potentially harmful oxidants (6).
Beets also bring several necessary minerals to the table, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese (2). I could go on and on about what role each mineral plays in our health but let's keep it simple - we need these minerals to help our bodies function the way they're designed to!
On top of being a healthy addition to meals, beets are also extremely versatile! I grew up thinking that the only way to eat beets was to pickle them (it's more delicious than it sounds, trust me). However, you can add them to a summer salad, mix them into your usual blend of roasted root vegetables, use them in a unique take on salsa, or even add them to hummus using the recipe below!
Eggplants are an often-overlooked member of the nightshade family. Hold on, what?! Aren't nightshades "bad" for human health? Long story short, not exactly. Nightshades get a bad rap because they produce specific alkaloids (which fall under the umbrella of phytochemicals), that can be harmful in large enough quantities. However, keep in mind that too much of nearly anything can be harmful. Nightshades aren't automatically dangerous and can absolutely be part of a healthy, varied diet (6).
In the right quantities, these alkaloids can help reduce the risk of certain cancers and even work against specific parasites. In addition to alkaloids, eggplants also provide other phytochemicals, including phenolic compounds, and carotenoids. This means that eggplants can help us fight inflammation and provide us with useful antioxidants. Although carotenoids are most abundantly found in yellow and orange vegetables, we can get some from eggplants. These compounds have also been shown to decrease the risk of several types of cancer (6).
Just like most veggies, eggplants are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. By adding eggplants to your diet, you're also adding vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and much more (6)! They have a subtle flavor, allowing them to blend right in with other ingredients. That means they'll make an excellent addition to nearly any meal! You can slice and grill them, add them to lasagna, or try them out in the delicious caponata featured below.
Radishes are so much more than just a topping on a fresh salad. These roots are a member of the cruciferous vegetable family and have a lot to offer (7)! Just like beets and eggplants, radishes have beneficial phytochemicals, including glucosinolates, polyphenols, and isothiocyanates. No need to memorize these ridiculously odd names though, just remember that beneficial phytochemicals = decreased inflammation and antioxidant properties (8).
Some of the phytochemicals found in radishes (and other cruciferous veggies for that matter) have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. On top of that, radishes are being studied for several other potential health benefits, like helping keep our liver healthy (8).
These tiny roots are mighty- they're packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, several of the B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and much more (9). On top of that, they come in a whole slew of beautiful and tasty varieties - do yourself a favor and search "watermelon radish" or "candy cane radish." This tasty root can be pickled, sliced and served raw, added to curry, or mixed into a deliciously fresh herbed salad like the recipe below!
Ok so zucchinis seem to be having their day - it's now commonplace to see zucchini noodles, or "zoodles," on a menu. I still wanted to include them in this often-overlooked list of summer veggies though because they're so much more than just a noodle replacement!
Just like the other veggies we've talked about so far, zucchinis have some beneficial phytochemicals, including phenolic compounds and carotenoids. That means these veggies have the same potential to help us decrease inflammation and neutralize potentially damaging oxidants (10). They also provide us with fiber - what we at The Functional Kitchen endearingly refer to as "nature's broom.
The vitamin and mineral list for zucchini is quite similar to the other veggies above: it's got vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, and much more. You can use zucchini in stews, add some to your next pasta dish, blend it into a pureed soup, or use them as the base of a tasty pizza bite using the recipe below!
So did you notice any trends with the health benefits these veggies provide? They all provide the benefit of decreased inflammation and have antioxidants, thanks to their helpful phytochemicals. They're all sources of fiber, an important dietary component that helps keep our gut happy and healthy. They're all loaded with minerals our bodies need because they're grown in soil, a mineral-rich substance. Also, they're all so versatile when it comes to cooking!
What are you waiting for? Head on over to your nearest farmers' market and add one (or more) of these veggies to your summer mix!
1. Ohio Farm Bureau. What’s In Season. https://ofbf.org/whats-in-season/. Accessed 06/27, 2021.
2. Mirmiran P, Houshialsadat Z, Gaeini Z, Bahadoran Z, Azizi F. Functional properties of beetroot (Beta vulgaris) in management of cardio-metabolic diseases. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2020;17:3. Published 2020 Jan 7. doi:10.1186/s12986-019-0421-0
3. Amirpoor A, Zavar R, Amerizadeh A, et al. Effect of Beetroot Consumption on Serum Lipid Profile: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis [published online ahead of print, 2021 May 8]. Curr Probl Cardiol. 2021;100887. doi:10.1016/j.cpcardiol.2021.100887
4. Cleveland Clinic. The health Benefits of Beets. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-health-benefits-of-beets/. Published 2020. Accessed 06/26, 2021.
5. Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ. The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2801-2822. Published 2015 Apr 14. doi:10.3390/nu7042801
6. Gürbüz N, Uluişik S, Frary A, Frary A, Doğanlar S. Health benefits and bioactive compounds of eggplant. Food Chem. 2018;268:602-610. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.06.093
7. Eagles SK, Gross AS, McLachlan AJ. The Effects of Cruciferous Vegetable-Enriched Diets on Drug Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Dietary Intervention Trials in Humans. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2020;108(2):212-227. doi:10.1002/cpt.1811
8. Manivannan A, Kim JH, Kim DS, Lee ES, Lee HE. Deciphering the Nutraceutical Potential of Raphanus sativus-A Comprehensive Overview. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):402. Published 2019 Feb 14. doi:10.3390/nu11020402
9. Banihani SA. Radish (Raphanus sativus) and Diabetes. Nutrients. 2017;9(9):1014. Published 2017 Sep 14. doi:10.3390/nu9091014
10. Kopczyńska K, Kazimierczak R, Średnicka-Tober D, et al. The Profile of Selected Antioxidants in Two Courgette Varieties from Organic and Conventional Production. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(5):404. Published 2020 May 9. doi:10.3390/antiox9050404