'Tis the season for farm-fresh, garden-ripe produce, but you might miss out on the avalanche of age-defying nutrients packed inside tender greens, heirloom tomatoes, sweet carrots, crunchy snow peas and other salad stars unless you pick the right oil for your salad dressing. The big news: Drizzling olive, walnut, macadamia or canola oil over the veggies boosts your body's absorption of good-guy carotenoids that slash your risk for heart disease, cancer and vision loss.
Rich in monounsaturated fat, these healthy oils outperformed corn oil (found in many commercial salad dressings) and saturated fats (found in creamy toppings) at moving carotenoids out of salad veggies and into the bloodstream, a new Purdue University report reveals. A single teaspoon of monounsaturated oil worked just as well as a tablespoonful of the others. And that teaspoon's worth contains only 40 calories, so you can afford that splash of real oil instead of "diet" types that can't activate important, fat-soluble nutrients in your salad, such as lutein, lycopene, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin.
But that's not the only news. Whether you're a fruit fiend, a grill guru or are just trying to get out of the kitchen and down to the pool as fast as possible, these fresh, summer eating strategies can rev up the health benefits with every delicious bite:
» Grill salmon, trout or sardines. If you're overweight, getting 1.5 grams of DHA plus EPA daily -- omega-3 fatty acids that protect your heart and brain -- dials back chronic, bodywide inflammation by 10 percent. That's a good deal, because extra pounds around your middle, particularly on the belly, heat up inflammation. Cooling it puts a big chill on your odds for developing diabetes and a host of other age-you-early health problems. You'll get that much good fat from a 3 1/2-ounce serving of salmon, lake trout or sardines.
» Grab a peach, nectarine or plum. Does your heart skip a happy beat when the sign in the produce section announces that "local peaches are here"? Your ticker's onto something. Turns out bioactive compounds in stone fruits (plums, nectarines, peaches and apricots) have anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetes and anti-obesity properties. These protective chemicals help you burn fat cells and boost your immune system, and protect you from LDL cholesterol and plaque buildup in artery walls. Keep a bowlful of these juicy fruits on the counter or stack them at the front of the fridge so you (and the rest of the family) can grab them easily.
» Skip the store-bought sweets; slice a watermelon instead. Concentrated milk fats, added to many commercial desserts, trigger a bloom of bad-guy bacteria in your digestive system -- irritating the lining of your intestines and increasing inflammation. University of Chicago scientists report that these fats could boost risk for chronic digestive problems such as colitis. Bite into a cool watermelon wedge instead of packaged sweets. You'll get nearly 3 grams of fiber, which helps feed the good bacteria in your digestive system, along with the cancer-crusher lycopene, all for less than 100 calories.
» Trying to quit smoking? Double up on green summer bounty. Eating more fruits and vegetables can help triple your odds for kicking the tobacco habit and staying smoke-free this summer. Nope, we didn't make this one up. Stop-smoking researchers found the link by following 1,000 smokers for more than a year -- and asking them what they were eating in addition to whether they'd conquered nicotine addiction. Even if you're still thinking about quitting, amping up the apples, avocados and all the rest is a great start. Produce-loving smokers lit up fewer cigarettes in a day, waited longer to have their first one in the morning and were less nicotine-dependent in the long run. Why? Could be that produce fills you up. Or, that unlike meat, soda or alcoholic drinks, fruit and veggies don't enhance the taste of tobacco. They may even make it worse!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information, go to realage.com.