Quanity, color are key to better health with vegetables

December 08, 2004|by Lynn Little

From a health standpoint, vegetables are a five-star food group: naturally nutrient-rich; better tasting than a vitamin pill; low in calories and fat; cholesterol-free; and packed with disease-fighting phytonutrients.

A study in the November Journal of Nutrition emphasizes the double benefit of vegetable intake. Volunteers who ate vegetables consistently for two weeks had higher blood levels of vitamin C - and lower levels of some compounds that impair health. In this study, the vegetables were eaten as gazpacho, an antioxidant-rich soup of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and garlic.

To maximize your health with vegetables, nutrition experts suggest at least three to five servings per day - in a rainbow of colors. All types of vegetables can be nourishing and delicious - fresh, frozen, canned and juiced. Hearty soups and stews are a great way to enjoy veggies on frosty winter days. Other ways to bump up your intake during cold and flu season include: crunchy carrots for a snack at school or work; a tossed spinach salad at lunch or dinner; and a quick-to-cook side of frozen broccoli in the evening.


Here are a dozen vegetables and ways to enjoy them, at the same time, treating yourself to good health:

· Broccoli and cauliflower: They are versatile and very healthful. Eat them raw (with dip if you like) or cooked, in a salad, or even a slaw.

· Carrots: They're sweet, crunchy, and good for your teeth, eyes and heart. They're perfect raw (as a snack or salad) or cooked in a stew.

· Peppers: They come green, red, yellow, orange, even purple. Enjoy peppers in a salad, stir-fry, casserole or as a snack.

· Spinach: A salad of baby spinach leaves with pears or apples can turn anyone into a real spinach lover.

· Onions: The zesty onion family (scallions, leeks, and garlic, too) offers some powerful antioxidant nutrients.

· Peas: Fresh, frozen, or even canned, peas are a treat to eat, and they are popular with small children.

· Beets: If you've never liked beets, try them in a new way - roasted, grilled or lightly steamed in the microwave.

· Sweet potatoes and yams: Switch the color on your usual baked potato - and you'll get a lot more nutrients, along with great taste.

· Mushrooms: Just a mushroom or two adds rich flavor to a casserole, soup, stew, stir-fry, or even a tossed green salad.

· Leaf and romaine lettuce: Rule of thumb for a healthy salad: The darker green or red the lettuce leaves, the more nutrients you get.

· Green, yellow or purple beans: Like their pea "cousins," beans offer some fiber and a bit of protein, along with vitamins and minerals.

· Tomatoes: Cooking increases the availability of some tomato nutrients - so enjoy canned sauce, paste and chunks.

Eating more vegetables (and fruits) might be one of the smartest choices you can make. Eating at least five servings of produce a day helps fight cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as everyday colds. It also helps maintain your eyesight and improve overall health at the same time.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

The Herald-Mail Articles