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SUMMER VEGETABLES

Once your buy your summer veggies, storage is key.

Corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini are ripe right now. This handy guide offers information on picking the best summer vegetables and the nutritional benefits of each.

Corn

What you get: Although classified as a vegetable by the USDA, corn is actually a grain. Like other whole grains, it's high in complex carbohydrates. Corn contains some protein and fiber and provides some potassium and vitamin C, plus a variety of trace minerals.

Shopping tips: The best way to buy corn is in the husk, which protects the kernels from dry air and also tells you how fresh the corn is. Moist green husks are clearly fresher than dry brown ones. The tassel (silky strings at the tip) should be golden brown; a pale tassel is an indication that the corn was picked too early.

Storage tips: The sooner you can eat corn after purchase, the sweeter it will be, as the sugar in corn begins converting into starch as soon as it's picked.

Cucumbers

What you get: While the cucumber isn't known as a nutrition powerhouse, it does provide a small amount of fiber, minerals and vitamins — particularly vitamin C (about 6 percent of the daily value per cup).

Shopping tips: The most common cucumbers are the English or European greenhouse cucumber, often sheathed in plastic wrap to protect its very thin skin, and the American slicing cucumber, which has a slightly thicker skin and more seeds. Avoid those that have any yellow on them or have soft or wrinkled spots at the ends, a sign of improper storage.

Storage tip: Store cucumbers in a ventilated plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator.

Tomatoes

What you get: A medium-size fresh tomato is an excellent source of vitamins A and C — and if you eat them in season, you'll get twice as much vitamin C as at other times of the year. Tomatoes also contain the carotenoid lycopene (this is what makes tomatoes red), which helps prevent some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

Shopping tips: Bite-size cherry and grape tomatoes are delicious in salads or for snacking. Roma, or plum, tomatoes have fewer seeds than other varieties and are good for making sauces and other cooked dishes. Plain "supermarket reds" are versatile for cooking and for using raw.

Buy tomatoes as close to home as possible. Look for those that are plump and shiny and give slightly when pressed; smell the stem end for that distinctive, sweetly acidic aroma.

Storage tip: Refrigeration destroys the flavor of tomatoes; free them from any packaging and store at a cool room temperature, away from sunlight.

Zucchini

What you get: Zucchini has just 29 calories per 1 cup. It offers lutein, beta carotene and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that promote good vision. Additional nutrients include potassium, magnesium, manganese, folate, fiber and vitamins C and A.

Shopping tips: Look for shiny, dark green zucchini (the freshest ones will have slightly prickly skin) with moist stem ends at least 1 inch in length. The zucchini should be firm to the touch and heavy in your hand. Avoid zucchini with breaks, gashes or soft spots.

Storage tips: Store zucchini in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)

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