You don't have to travel far and wide to find the healthiest foods on the planet. In fact, disease-fighting, fat-blasting, performance-enhancing fare could be hiding right around the corner. Your local farmers' market is brimming with nutritional powerhouses--from watercress to homemade bread--that will keep you slim and healthy long after swimsuit season has ended. Here's what to buy on your next outing--and what to do with it once you're home.
Take a break from baby spinach and jazz up your spring salads with dandelion greens. The edible weed is packed with vitamins A and K and is also a good source of vitamin C, calcium, and vision-boosting lutein. For a calorie-conserving bonus, toss in a handful of peppery arugula or tangy watercress for a burst of flavor that may help you use less dressing. These greens are packed with folate, which can help keep you slim during swimsuit season. A British Journal of Nutrition study found that dieters with the highest folate levels lost up to 8.5 times as much weight as those with lower levels of the B vitamin.
FACT OR FICTION? Clean eating means buying all your produce organic.
Don't let the tart and tang of this celerylike veggie scare your taste buds away. Rhubarb is high in fiber and vitamins C and K. And news flash: It doesn't have to be baked in a pie. For an easy 100-calorie cereal or yogurt topper, combine chopped rhubarb with sliced strawberries, water, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla. Cook in a pot until tender, and then chill. A Food Chemistry study found that cooking rhubarb increases levels of polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants.
The reason all grocery store tomatoes look the same: Different varieties have been crossed to make the fruit hardier and resistant to disease. The result is a perfect-looking, round, red tomato that tastes a little bland. Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, have personality--they all look and taste different, which makes buying and eating them an adventure. The health factor: Tomatoes are an easy way to load up on lycopene, which studies suggest helps fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, and muscular degeneration.
A sweet vegetable--it doesn't get much better than that. These purple powerhouses are packed with folate and betaine, two nutrients that work together to lower your risk of heart disease. The best way to eat beets: raw. Cooking the root vegetable lowers its disease-fighting capacity. To make a simple salad-for-one, wash, peel, and grate one beet. Then toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.
Like spinach, Swiss chard supports bone health. The slightly bitter green is rich in calcium and magnesium, and 1 cup of boiled chard provides 6 to 8 times the recommended daily value of vitamin K. Toss cooked chard with whole grain pasta, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, or try it in omelets, frittatas, and vegetable lasagna.
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With its rich combination of carbohydrates, B vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes, raw honey has been shown to help control blood sugar and enhance athletic performance. Sustaining blood sugar levels after endurance training is essential to replenishing glycogen stores--your muscles' fuel--promoting recovery and optimal performance the following day. When University of Memphis researchers gave 39 men and women protein shakes blended with either sucrose, maltodextrin, honey, or a placebo after an intense weight training session, those in the group that had consumed the honey-sweetened recovery drink were the only study participants to have sustained blood sugar 2 hours after exercise.
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By now you know the benefits of eating more whole grains: lower risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and a healthier body weight. Still, the whole grain bread found on grocery store shelves usually contains added sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which is used to protect freshness and provide a soft and fluffy texture. The farmers' market vendor likely uses fewer ingredients--and fewer sweeteners--to bake bread, although it won't last for 2 weeks in the bread box. Bummer.
Eggs from grass-fed, free-range chickens are easy to spot at most famers' markets and they offer a boost of nutrition. According to a study published in the journal Animal Feed Science and Technology, eggs from pastured hens contain as much as 10 times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from factory hens. Similarly, eggs, milk, and dairy from pasture-fed cows contain more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound that could help lower breast cancer risk, according to Finnish researchers.
Cuts of meat that come from grass-fed animals have less fat and fewer calories than those that come from grain-fed animals. In addition to being higher in CLA and omega-3s, meat from grass-fed animals is higher in vitamin E. According to University of Colorado researchers, the meat from pastured cattle contains 4 times more vitamin E than feedlot beef and about twice as much vitamin E as meat from feedlot cattle fed vitamin E in supplement form.
Instead of dowsing meats in oily marinades before tossing them on the grill, mix together spices and fresh herbs, like basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme to make low-calorie, full-flavor rubs. An herb you certainly won't want to pass up: oregano. The popular pizza topping adds more than an intense burst of flavor to your food--it contains 3 to 20 times more antioxidant activity than its spice rack neighbors, according to the USDA.
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