The warm months of summer invite some of the best produce that you rarely get to see: stone fruits. Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and cherries are now in season, offering different juicy and flavorful varieties. Stone fruits are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, so they pack a one-two punch combo of nutrition and delicious flavor.
What Is Stone Fruit?
A stone fruit, or a drupe, is a type of fruit that contains a large pit (stone) in the center. Belonging to the Prunus genus family, stone fruits typically have thin skin and soft flesh. Unlike other fruits, stone fruits stop ripening after you pick them, which is why their season is very narrow. Because different varieties ripen at different times, you can occasionally find different stone fruits throughout the year. Summer, however, is when you can find the freshest varieties, especially at local farmers markets. Continue reading to learn about five of the most popular stone fruits and their health benefits.
Juicy, scrumptious, and packing an impressive amount of flavor for their size, plums are rich in anti-inflammatory properties and phenolic compounds, such as kaempferol and proanthocyanidins. Phenolic compounds help protect your cells against free radical damage, reducing your risk of chronic illnesses. Several studies indicate that prunes (dried plums) may increase bone mineral density, reduce blood pressure, and relieve constipation. Don’t eat too many prunes at once, though. You can enjoy fresh plums on their own, in salads, in oatmeal, in smoothies, or in fruit salads.
Cherries are not always available, so people snatch them up when they hit grocery shelves in the summer. They offer a sweetly tart flavor profile and a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Cherries are naturally rich in manganese, vitamins B6 & K, copper, magnesium, and several antioxidants, including procyanidins, flavonols, and anthocyanins. One 28-week study found that people who ate just under two cups of cherries per day significantly reduced markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein and interleukin 18. Having high levels of these inflammatory markers can increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Other studies note that cherries may help regulate blood sugar, reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, and improve sleep.
Depending on the apricot you select, you may experience a tart or incredibly sweet flavor. Ideally, you should have a mixture of tart and sweet in every bite. Apricots offer impressive amounts of several B vitamins, in addition to vitamins E and K. They are also great sources of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that the body converts to vitamin A. That carotenoid is the reason why apricots are their signature vibrant orange color. Several animal studies indicated that the high concentration of beta-carotene protected cells against oxidative damage. A study with 1,300 people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) found that the group that ate apricots daily experienced improved digestion and fewer GERD symptoms.
Next to watermelon, the peach has to be one of summer’s most signature fruits. They are wonderfully juicy and sweet and exhibit impressive amounts of vitamins A & C, copper, fiber, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids. Studies found that people who consumed diets with more carotenoids had a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that impairs vision. Additional research notes that carotenoid-rich foods like peaches may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease. Make sure that you consume the peels because they contain 27 times more antioxidants than the internal flesh.
Lychees are not available everywhere, and you may have to visit ethnic grocery stores to find them. Their gel-like white flesh offers a distinct flavor and texture that’s contained inside a protective, inedible skin. Lychee fruit provides phenolic compounds, including caffeic acid, rutin, gallic acid, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid, all of which exhibit antioxidant activity. A 21-day animal study observed rats with alcoholic liver disease. These rats received a 91-milligram per pound of body weight lychee extract per day. The results indicated a significant reduction in cellular damage, liver inflammation, and free radical production. Enjoy lychee fruits raw, in salads, or in smoothies.