Reasons to add zucchini and tomatoes to your daily meal plans now

Go into any market, roadside farm stand or your own backyard, and you are likely to see the tell-tale sign it is July in Ohio — tomatoes and zucchini a plenty.

The nutritional value of these common garden staples is often overshadowed by their garden companions kale, swiss chard and/or spinach. The zucchini and tomato nutritional profile is different than the leafy greens, however they contribute several key vitamins and minerals important to overall health.

Zucchini is a summer squash that is actually considered a fruit, but we treat it as a vegetable in meal preparation. Once picked, zucchinis should be used within two to three days of picking. Hold off on washing zucchini until you are ready to use it, as moisture speeds the breakdown process. One half of a 4-8 inch zucchini provides 10 calories, two grams of carbohydrates, and one gram of fiber.

This summer fruit also provides a good source of vitamin C, potassium, manganese, riboflavin, folate and vitamin A. To preserve the nutrients, consume zucchini raw, lightly steamed, grilled or broiled. My favorite way to prepare zucchini is to slice zucchini lengthwise, brush lightly with olive oil, and then sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper. Grill lightly for three to five minutes and enjoy.

Tomatoes are also a fruit but are used as a vegetable in meal preparation. Once picked, tomatoes should be stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 1-2 days. One medium tomato has 18 calories and approximately 4 grams of carbohydrate. Tomatoes are a rich source of the antioxidants vitamin C and A. Tomatoes are rich in compounds called lycopene and xanthin. These compounds contribute to the red orange color of the tomato.

Lycopene has been found to have protective properties against prostate cancer and heart disease. Vitamin A, xanthin and lycopene together have been reported to provide support to eye and skin health. Tomatoes also provide a good source of potassium, an important mineral in cellular and heart function and B-vitamins, which play an important role in metabolic pathways.

Tomatoes can be enjoyed whole, as a salsa, sauce or as an addition to a salad. Another way to enjoy a tomato is to use it as a bowl for a cold pasta salad, cottage cheese, or bean salad. Simply cut the top off the tomato and scoop out the inside pulp of the tomato. Add the inside pulp to your pasta salad, bean salad or cottage cheese and mix well. Then carefully scoop the salad into the tomato bowl. Enjoy the salad and then eat the tomato bowl.

Adding seasonal produce like tomatoes and zucchini to your daily meals can contribute a good source of antioxidants (vitamins A and C), B vitamins, and potassium while delivering minimal calories. These nutrients contribute to supporting daily immune and metabolic functions. Enjoy the bounty of summers harvest and explore the many ways you can include these foods into your meals.

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