Summer Produce with a Protective Punch

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of polyphenols—antioxidant compounds made by plants to protect themselves, especially during periods of stress. When we eat plants and fruits that are rich in these substances, the polyphenols in those plants act almost like natural drugs to protect us against a wide variety of assaults, including inflammation, that can eventually lead to disease.

The absolute best way to get your daily dose of polyphenols is to eat a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables. Each fruit and vegetable has its own unique combination of these compounds that work synergistically to provide protective benefits. While supplements can certainly deliver an extra polyphenolic boost, they’ll never quite match up to the specialized combinations found in nature.

Luckily, this is the best time of year to take advantage of polyphenol-rich, anti-inflammatory fruits and veggies. By mid-August, farmer’s markets and homegrown gardens are bursting at the seams with some of the most nutritious and delicious bounty Mother Nature can offer.

Before I tell you some of the best picks of the season, I want to reinforce the idea of buying and eating locally grown, seasonal produce. Doing so ensures you’re getting the freshest, most nutrient-dense fruits and veggies possible. The produce at your local farmer’s market typically comes from nearby farms and gardens, so there is a greater likelihood that it contains higher levels of polyphenols than industrially grown foods. Here’s why: Polyphenols give color and taste to most fruits and vegetables, so polyphenol content and taste increase as produce gets darker, as most do when they naturally ripen.

Think about it—the produce you see at the grocery store is often cultivated in faraway places such as Mexico or South America. These foods need to be shipped thousands of miles, and that means they must be picked before they have matured so that they will not be over-ripe when they arrive at your local store. When picked prematurely, produce tends to have lower polyphenolic content (and obviously less appealing taste) than when it’s allowed to ripen on the vine.

So whenever possible, support your area farmers by buying locally grown produce. And give them heartfelt thanks, because they are providing you and your family with some of nature’s very best tasting and health-promoting foods on the planet.

With that said, here are just a few of the fruits and vegetables you should be eating right now to get the most nutritional bang for your buck:


Plump, juicy tomatoes are rich sources of vitamins A and C and several polyphenols including alpha lipoic acid, choline, beta-carotene, lutein, and—most notably—lycopene.

Lycopene gives tomatoes their bright red color. About 80 percent of the lycopene we consume comes from tomatoes. Interestingly, lycopene becomes more potent and bioavailable with heating or cooking, so using fresh garden tomatoes to make sauce (then freezing it for future use) is a great way to take advantage of this phytonutrient.

Research suggests that higher blood levels of lycopene can help lower the risk of some cancers (particularly prostate, lung, and stomach) and stroke. Preliminary research also indicates it shows promise in reducing incidence of diabetes and its complications and inhibiting inflammatory pathways that lead to heart-related problems such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.


Nothing says summer like biting into a sweet strawberry or filling your mouth full of plump blueberries. Both of these warm-weather berries, and others such as raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, and loganberries, are high in countless nutrients, including vitamin C and polyphenols such as anthocyanins and ellagic acid.

Anthocyanins are responsible for these fruits’ red, purple, and blue hues. Scientific evidence shows these compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity and may help protect against cancer. Anthocyanins have a positive effect on blood pressure, endothelial function, and inflammatory markers, helping to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease.4-5


The antioxidant lutein—which protects the skin and eyes—gives peaches their gorgeous…well, peachy…color.6

Preliminary studies also reveal that polyphenols present in peaches may have potential chemopreventive properties—particularly in breast cancer cells.7-8

Using experimental breast cancer cells, researchers determined that tumor growth and spread were inhibited by peach polyphenols given at a dose of 0.8-1.6 mg per day. This would be the equivalent of 2-3 peaches a day. Admittedly, this is very early research. However, given how scrumptious ripe peaches are, eating two a day for the next month, while they’re at their peak, should not be all that difficult!


Eggplants—members of the nightshade family of vegetables—are at their absolute best between August and October.

The skin of eggplant contains a phytonutrient called nasunin, which may protect the fats (lipids) in the membranes of brain cells. Nasunin also has been found to have anti-antiogenic activity. This means it may help to stop the new growth of blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors.9-10

Additionally, eggplant contains other polyphenols, most notably chlorogenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.

Enjoy a Delicious Variety

These are just a few of the wonderful summertime fruits and veggies that you should be enjoying right now. Others include bell peppers, cucumbers, kale, green beans, rhubarb, and spinach. Get creative with your combinations. The more variety you consume, the greater your polyphenol intake. Enjoy!

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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