Get fit with vegetables

June 28, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

According to diet experts, the list of reasons to eat veggies is long: Vegetables play an important role in weight management; they are naturally low in calories and cholesterol, and are fat-free and packed with health-enhancing phytonutrients; veggies help protect bones and prevent strokes; green leafy vegetables are closely linked to heart health; and yellow-orange and green veggies reduce the risk of diabetes.

Summer brings another important reason to eat more veggies. Fresh produce tastes great, and it's naturally nutrient-rich. If you didn't plant your own garden this year, fresh vegetables are as close as your farmers markets, roadside stand or your grocery's produce section.

Summer salads are the perfect way to get your taste buds on a health kick. They are easy to toss together and go great with grilled meals like lean steaks, salmon and chicken breasts. Here are three simple salads for at-home dinners and brown-bag lunches:


Leafy veggie salads

Today's leafy greens - the darker green the better - offer more taste and nutrition than iceberg lettuce. Leafy greens rate high in nutrient value with vitamins (A, C, K and folic acid), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium), and those all-important anti-oxidants (beta-carotene and lutein). Try tossing mixed baby greens or tender spinach with fruit (sliced strawberries or pears), a few nuts (pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds) and a light vinaigrette salad dressing.

Mixed veggie salads

Any mixture of your favorite vegetables makes a great salad, including leftovers. Try combos like cold cooked peas, chopped water chestnuts, sliced scallions and garlic with a soy dressing - or broccoli florets, chopped red onions, raisins and sunflower seeds.

Bean and veggie salads

Be creative with your bean choices - any cooked or canned beans can make a super salad. Start with chickpeas, pintos, lentils and navy, black or green beans; add chopped onions, peppers or tomatoes; and spice it up with olive oil, vinegar and some herbs.

Enjoy crispy, crunchy, juicy vegetables at snack time. Getting the nutrition your body needs for optimal health can be a snap - just enjoy a cup of raw veggies at snack time. You can buy them ready-to-eat, or slice up a bunch a couple of times a week and refrigerate them in ready-to-go baggies to add to your brown-bag lunches. Shop for delicious options from A to Z - asparagus spears, green beans, carrot coins, celery stalks, pea pods, grape tomatoes and zucchini sticks.

What will you do for a healthier you? Add at least one more daily serving of veggies to your usual intake? Try at least one new vegetable in a salad every week? Eat two different colors of veggies every day?

Experiment with new salads and vegetable combinations this summer. One cup of leafy greens is a tasty start on the three to five vegetables you need every day. Add several crunchy veggie snacks and you'll meet your produce quota in no time!

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

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