- Salad Bar, colorful fresh and cooked vegetable salads!
- Roasted Vegetables, serve them as a side, mix them with your pasta, top your pizza with them or add them to your sandwich!
- Zucchini Linguine, less carbohydrates, more vitamins and minerals!
As dictionary.com describes it, a vegetable is “any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food, as the tomato, bean, beet, potato, onion, asparagus, spinach, or cauliflower.”
A well balanced plant-based diet consisting of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains can provide all of the nutrients that our bodies need to function properly and fight disease. Each type of vegetable has a unique nutritional and medicinal value (for example, beets are high in potassium, iron and calcium, while avocados are rich in heart-healthy fats, vitamin C and K), but without exception, all vegetables are highly nutritious and contain no cholesterol and very little or no trans fat or saturated fat. Unlike vegetables, meats and dairy products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “if you have too much cholesterol in your body, it can build up inside your blood vessels and make it hard for blood to flow. Over time, this can lead to heart disease and heart attack.” The consumption of animal products can also increase the risk of atherosclerosis and some types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, colorectal, and ovarian cancer, and exacerbates diabetic cases. Therefore, by eating more vegetables and less animal products, you can improve the overall performance of your body and boost your immune system.
Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, and black beans, are high in protein, fiber and antioxidants; dark leafy greens, nuts, and grains are high in iron; and vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts -the fabulous crucifers- are a great source of calcium and vitamins. Moreover, fiber can only be found in plant foods and is essential for the optimal function of the body: it normalizes bowel movements, helps your body to maintain a healthy weight, and reduces risk of diabetes and heart disease. Finally, and most importantly, eating lower in the food chain is a huge step towards the creation of a more sustainable world!
How to Maximize the Power of Your Veggies!
Since heat destroys some of their properties, most vegetables are more nutritious when they are raw. However, the nutritional content in certain vegetables, such as beets, carrots and tomatoes, increases when they are steamed, sautéed or baked. If you decide to cook your veggies, always avoid boiling them (unless you are making a soup), most of the nutrients will be lost into the water! To find out the best ways to prepare each type of vegetable, read the following descriptions provided in this article.
Color is another important factor when putting food on your plate. According to registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association Spokesperson Karen Ansel, adding a splash of colorful seasonal foods to your plate makes for more than just a festive meal. “A rainbow of foods creates a palette of nutrients, each with a different bundle of potential benefits for a healthful eating plan,” she explains.
So, to take full advantage of the available nutrients in your vegetables, it is important to learn which ones should be cooked and how, and which varieties (and colors) contain the most nutrients. Salads, for example, are an excellent way to apply the ‘eat the rainbow’ rule; they are also easy to prepare and a great addition to any entrée! Visit GSU’s Salad Bar for ideas and recipes!
♥Remember that the most nutritious vegetables in the grocery store or the farmers market are the ones with the most intense flavor and color: hot, spicy, bitter and sour flavors and dark green, red, and purple colors rule! Freshness is also a very important factor, so shop at your local farmers market whenever you get the chance and (if possible) buy organic to avoid the consumption of pesticides!
Let’s learn the basics about the most popular veggies in the store in order to make better choices while shopping and to maximize the power of a healthy lifestyle!
Spinach→ its tender and crispy green leaves contain antioxidants and anticancer properties. Spinach is a great source of fiber, iron and vitamins (A, C, B-6, and K); as well as folate, potassium, and omega 3 fatty-acids. Spinach is also rich in lutein, a phytonutrient that helps protect the eyes and reduces inflammation. In order to get the most health benefits out of your spinach, choose medium size leaves sold in bunches rather than bags, and try to eat them as soon as possible: the longer your spinach sits in your refrigerator, the more antioxidants it will lose! Avoid boiling your spinach because most of its nutrients will be lost into the water.
Tomato→ this fruit is classified as a berry and there are over 7500 tomato varieties around the world. Tomatoes help prevent cancer and heart disease and are a great source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins (A, B and C) and minerals (especially potassium). When shopping, in order to pick the tomatoes with the highest nutritional value, look for the smallest sizes and darkest colors, these are the sweetest and most flavorful tomatoes and they are also the most nutritious. Buy currant tomatoes, if you find them, they are one of the smallest types of tomatoes and contain the highest levels of nutrients! Red Pear heirloom tomatoes are also delicious, extra flavorful, high in nutrients, and ideal for salads and sandwiches; you can find them at some grocery stores and most farmers markets! To conserve and even increase their flavor, keep your tomatoes out of the fridge. In addition, heat increases their nutritional value, so roasted, stewed, or canned tomatoes are actually more nutritious than raw tomatoes. Note: do not discard their juice, seeds or skin, these parts of the fruit contain 50% of it’s nutrients. Finally, in order to avoid the ingestion of pesticides, buy organic tomatoes or start a tomato garden at home!
Avocado→ also called “alligator pear” avocados are a tropical fruit native to central Mexico. They are a great source of fiber, vitamin C and K, and folate. Avocados help with the absorption of carotenoid antioxidants (especially the darkest part of the fruit, which is the closest to its skin). Although avocado is a high-fat fruit, its unusual fat provides many health benefits (for example, it acts as an anti-inflammatory), and its oleic acids help our digestive tract absorb fat-soluble nutrients. Avocados are also high in soluble fiber, which is a gel-type fiber that is creamy and smooth. When shopping for these delicious fruits, look for the Hass avocado, this variety has the highest phytonutrient content. If you bought unripe avocados, store them outside the fridge until they are ripe. If you consume only half of the fruit, save the half with the pit or seed and store it in the fridge with an onion, the oils of the onion will prevent the fast oxidation and browning of the open avocado.
Lettuce→ its tender and colorful leaves vary from light greens to reds, with different shapes and textures. Different types of lettuce have different nutritional contents, but in general, lettuce is a good source of potassium and vitamin A. It is also a source of iron, vitamin C, calcium and copper. Try to choose red, purple and the darkest green varieties of lettuce. Also look for lettuce with loose and open leaves (looseleaf varieties), which contain the highest levels of nutrients (try to avoid iceberg lettuce). To get the freshest and most nutritious lettuce, buy heads of lettuce instead of ‘ready to use’ bags.
Onion→ belongs to the genus of allium and is one of the most popular vegetables on the planet. Quite effective in the prevention of heart disease, common cold, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. Onions are rich in chromium, antioxidants, vitamin C and B, and quercetin. As it is the case with many other vegetables, the stronger the flavor, the higher nutritional value it has, so the more you cry while slicing that onion, the stronger your immune system will get! Choose medium size onions instead of large ones, they usually contain twice as much nutrients. Avoid sweet varieties, since they are lower in nutrients than the more pungent ones. Try to consume more shallots, chives, and scallions (green onions), they are more expensive but have up to six times more nutrients than the typical onion varieties. Cooking onions actually increases their quercitin content, so feel free to eat your onions however you like (just avoid boiling them).
Beets & beet greens→ this root, and its tops, are one of the healthiest and most nutritious vegetables you can eat. Beets are high in folic acids, vitamins, and minerals (iron, calcium and potassium), and help prevent medical conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. The strong and beautiful color of the vegetable comes from betalain, a phytonutrient high in antioxidants (which might also turn our urine or feces a harmless pink color). You can shred your beets raw just like carrots, however, heat increases the antioxidant content in beets, so try to steam or bake your beets before adding them to salads and other dishes. Beet greens are even higher in nutrients than the roots, and you can use them in your meals (raw or cooked) the same way you fix your spinach. Finally, beets can boost your endurance and enhance your performance; the nitrate found in beets can reduce your blood pressure, which increases blood flow to your muscles and reduces the amount of oxygen required by your muscles during exercise! Buy fresh: the freshest beets in the store are those with their greens still attached, so always try to buy bunch beets and eat the greens shortly after being purchased. Note: canned beets are also a great choice; they can be less flavorful but are usually higher in antioxidants! Moreover, according to Roman history and some recent scientific studies, beets are believed to be a natural aphrodisiac! So don’t miss out on the many advantages of these vegetables and ‘beet it’ today!
Carrots→ this sweet and crispy root vegetable provides vitamin A, minerals, anti-oxidants, and fiber. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene (a type of vitamin A), which is vital for the healthy growth of the skin, nails and hair; carotene also converts into retinol, which is essential for the human vision system. If possible, buy organic carrots with their green tops still attached and eat them with the skin (which contains 1/3 of the vegetable’s nutrients). Avoid baby carrots (which are mature carrots cut and peeled into the shape of ‘baby carrots’), they are convenient but they have lost all of their outer part. Purple, yellow or red carrots are the most nutritious varieties, so give them a try whenever you find them at the store or farmers market! Cooking carrots increases their health benefits, so steam, pan fry or bake your carrots, but avoid boiling them, you will lose most of their nutrients into the water (and if possible, cook carrots whole, it also helps to increase their medicinal value).
Kale (the king of the crucifers)→ kale belongs to the family of crucifers (vegetables with flowers that have four petals and resemble a cross: cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, arugula, turnips, collard greens, and mustard greens). Crucifers are rich in antioxidants and contain high levels of glucosinolates, sulfur containing, cancer fighting compounds. Glucosinolates are the main compounds responsible for crucifers’ amazing nutritional value. Moreover, cruciferous are also rich in calcium, especially kale and broccoli. Unfortunately, these incredible health benefits are accompanied by a bitter flavor, one of the reasons why kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, mustard greens, etcetera, are not as appealing and popular as other vegetables. It is important to try to eat your crucifers shortly after being purchased, they start losing their nutritional properties soon after being harvested. The best way to eat crucifers in order to retain their nutritional value, is raw, lightly steamed or sautéed (do not boil them unless you are making a soup, the nutrients will be lost into the water). Note: since all crucifers suffer from lose of phytonutrients soon after being harvested, if you have a garden or are thinking about starting one, consider this family of vegetables one of your priorities!
Celery→ one of the most popular snack vegetables for kids and adults in the US! Commonly eaten raw and typically served in veggie platters, lunch boxes and fresh salads. Celery is frequently used in weight-loss diets because it is very low in carbohydrates and calories, and has a high fiber content. Celery is also rich in antioxidants, vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Raw celery has more health benefits than cooked celery, but it adds great flavor and nutritional value to soups and stews, so use it up! Try to consume your celery within one week after being purchased; celery stored for longer periods of time starts losing its antioxidant potential.
Mushrooms→ a variety of fungi with a powerful source of nutrients. Mushrooms provide many essential nutrients: B vitamins (pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and niacin), vitamin D, and essential minerals (such as selenium, copper and potassium). White or button mushrooms, crimini (brown), shiitake, maitake, portabello, porcini, oyster, enoki, etcetera… all mushroom varieties offer a flavorful meaty texture and add a delicate touch to any meal, with the extra benefit of their unique nutritional value. Crimini mushrooms are one of the most nutritious types of mushrooms. Whichever mushrooms you decide to buy, make sure you place them in the fridge as soon as you get home, high temperatures can dramatically lower the phytonutrient content of these fungi.
Bell peppers→ their nutritional content varies with their color (green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and black). Bell peppers are a great source of antioxidants, vitamin C and A, carotene, folate, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin, and riboflavin. A bell pepper’s nutritional content increases as it ripens, so allow your bell peppers to ripen outside of the fridge before you eat them. Since high temperatures can damage the vegetable’s phytonutrients, eating your bell peppers raw maximizes their health benefits. Red bell peppers have a higher nutritional value than green, yellow or orange bell peppers. Purple or black bell peppers, which are usually more difficult to find, also have a high nutritional content, so if you ever see them at your local farmers market, make sure you give them a try!
Garlic→ good source of calcium, phosphorous, selenium, vitamin C and B6, and manganese. Being a member of the genus alliums, garlic has amazing health benefits. Its antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral, anti-clotting and anticancer properties make this vegetable a super food and a must have in every kitchen! The more pungent its flavor is, the more nutrients and health benefits it has. To find the freshest garlic in the store, check for firm bulbs with tightly attached outer papery skin (avoid garlic with loose skin and sprouting bulbs). Although it is usually more expensive, if possible, choose hard-neck over soft-neck garlic and try different varieties and colors! Also try garlic chives, they have super high antioxidants levels! Note: to increase garlic’s nutritional power and healing properties, mash, mince or dice the garlic cloves and let them sit for 10 minutes before eating or cooking them (a garlic press will do the job and is a great kitchen utensil to have!).
Legumes→ there are many different types of these dry seeds or beans: lentils, garbanzo beans, soy beans, green beans, kidney beans, navy beans, lima beans, fava beans, peas, etcetera. Rich in fiber and low in calories, legumes are a concentrated source of estrogen, which is essential for DNA binding, gene expression and human reproduction. Dried beans are also amazingly high in antioxidants, especially pinto beans, red kidney beans, black beans, yellow peas, and lentils, and they help to prevent heart and cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Last but not least, legumes are very high in protein, however, they need to be eaten with some type of grain food in order to get the necessary amino acids (methionine) needed to form a complete and high quality protein. So, in order to get the most out of your legumes, try to combine them with rice, pasta, farro, quinoa, bread or tortillas. The best and quickest cooking method for dried beans is the pressure cooker, this way your can retain all the amazing nutrients legumes provide. If you boil them in a pot, do not discard the liquid (since it will be full of nutrients), add it to stews, pasta dishes, soups, or eat your beans with their ‘juice.’ More good news! The health benefits and antioxidant content in canned cooked dried beans is even higher (especially kidney and pinto beans), so you can save yourself the time and work, and consume more canned beans! Also try black, green and red lentils, their nutritional value is even higher than the common brown lentils!
Nuts & Seeds→ almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, chia, sesame seed, flax seed, hemp seed, poppy seed, etcetera. Nuts and seeds have excellent health benefits: they reduce the risk of diabetes, they are essential for diets and weight control plans, and they help to prevent heart disease. They are also a great source of magnesium, manganese, protein, fiber, zinc, phosphorus, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Garnishing your salads with mixed nuts or seeds is a great way to add color, texture, flavor, elegance and lots of nutrients to your meals!
The best way of seasoning a salad and enhancing all the vegetables flavors, textures and properties is by adding salt, lemon or lime juice, and oil. It is important to add the salt (and pepper if you want) first, the lime or lemon juice second and the oil last. This way the seasoning mixes better with the vegetables.
Lime or lemon juice→ these citric kick makes every salad taste fresher and boosts every nutrient and flavor in it. In addition, adding lemon or lime juice to your meals enhances your body’s ability to absorb phytonutrients. Lemons and limes are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, zinc, potassium, calcium, and folic acid. They also act as fat burners and, after cranberries, are the fruits with the most anticancer properties. When shopping, try to buy the freshest, ripest, and heaviest lemons or limes, these will have more flavor, juice, and phytonutrients. Make sure your lemons are completely yellow (lemons with green spots are unripe lemons) and avoid the darkest green limes, since these are the most immature ones. Citrus peels are by far more nutritious than its flesh, so try to buy organic lemons and limes and eat their peels whenever possible (shred them on top of your salads, cover them in dark chocolate, or add them to your cookies and cake recipes!) Note: freezing the zest and the freshly squeezed juice of lemons or limes is OK, it will preserve their nutritional value and is a much better than the bottle of lemon or lime juice sold at the store.
Vegetable or olive oil→ salad dressings are unhealthy and overpowering. However, a little bit of fat in your salad will facilitate the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins found in salad greens. Natural oils, such as olive oil or vegetable oil are a great choice when seasoning a salad or any vegetable dish. Oils are all fats but choosing the right unsaturated fats can also help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease. Most oils help keep your skin and hair healthy. Unfiltered and unprocessed extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest chocies, it has more antioxidants than processed olive oil and will stay fresh longer (avoid processed, filtered and/or clarified olive oil, these processes filter out about half of the oil’s bionutrients!).
Balsamic vinegar and other vinegars are also a much better choice than heavy and creamy dressings. They add a fresh and tasty flavor to raw vegetables and they are completely fat free.
Now, it is time to make some salads! Check out Green Cuisine’s Salad Bar and find some new salad ideas.
For more information about the health benefits and nutritional value of vegetables, the best varieties to buy and grow, and the preferable ways to store and cook your vegetables, visit GSU’s Library, “Eating on the Wild Side.”