OXFORD, Miss. – Summer is near, providing people more access to a variety of foods that are especially plentiful during this season. With so much to choose from, selecting menu items that are both nutritious and delicious can be challenging.
To help consumers make healthier choices, a health professional at the University of Mississippi is offering a few helpful hints for the humid months ahead.
"During the summer months, I recommend that people take advantage of the local summer produce," said Mariana Anaya Jurss, a registered dietitian in UM's RebelWell program. "Visiting the local farmers markets is a great way to get local produce and incorporate vegetables and fruits into our diets which are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients that nourish our bodies and protect us from chronic diseases."
Summer produce that might be found at farmers markets include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, salad greens, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, peaches, watermelon, and herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, and sage. Oxford-area farmers markets, their locations and hours of operation include:
Mid-Town Farmers Market: In Mid-Town Shopping Center on North Lamar Avenue, open 7 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, May through October
Oxford Community Market: In the Old Armory Pavilion on Bramlett Boulevard, open from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, April through December.
Chicory Market: 274 County Road 101, open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m.to 5 p.m. Sundays, open year-round
When it comes to beverages, Jurss recommends drinking plenty of water during the hot summer months.
"Water is the only fluid our body requires, and most people do not meet the general daily recommendations of nine cups for women and 13 cups for men," she said. "If you don't like plain water, add a slice of lemon or infuse it with fruits such as berries and mint to add a hint of freshness to your beverage.
"Make it a goal to get a reusable water bottle and refill it throughout the day."
Jurss advises avoiding any beverage with added sugar or other sweeteners. This includes soda, tonic, and lemonade, as well as energy and sports drinks.
"These beverages add a large amount of calories with almost no nutrients; we typically refer to these as empty calories," Jurss said. "This means you get all the calories without any nutrients. When people consume sugar beverages, they do not get the feeling of fullness as when eating the same amount of calories from solid food."
This is important because it is easy to over-consume calories when drinking beverages, which can lead to weight gain.
"These beverages generally have about 150 calories per serving, which means that adding even one of these beverages to your daily intake in addition to your daily food intake needs means that you can gain up to 5 pounds per year," Jurss said. "In general, the higher intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic disease."
Those thinking about eating a lot of processed food should think twice, Jurss said.
"The term 'processed' is used loosely to refer to food that is not healthy, but actually, processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during preparation," she said. "This can be as simple as freezing, canning, or drying."
Not all processed foods are unhealthy.
"Some foods need to be processed to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurized to remove harmful bacteria," Jurss said. "But some processed foods have high levels of salt, sugar and fat.
"The added salt, sugar, and fat is what makes a processed food unhealthy. These are added to food to enhance the flavor or to extend its shelf life."
So how can you eat less processed food? Jurss offered the following tips:
Read the food label. "This can help you choose foods with lower amount of salt, sugar, and fat," she said.
Make it a habit to buy foods in their most natural form. "For example, instead of buying packaged cinnamon-and-apple oatmeal, purchase plain oatmeal and add your own apples and cinnamon," she said.
All Jurss' recommendations should be applied based on individual needs.
"For example, a young male has different needs than an older male so there are no recommendations for highly processed foods," she said. "The general consensus is that you limit highly processed foods."
Remember, not all processed foods are unhealthy, and even the unhealthy processed foods are okay to consume occasionally.
"You encounter health problems when processed foods are consumed on a regular basis and become part of your lifestyle," Jurss said.