The results of a recent clinical trial suggest that compounds in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli (and kale) prod cells to get rid of certain air pollutants. The intriguing randomized control trial of about 300 Chinese adults found that consuming a beverage made with broccoli sprouts every day for three months led to high rates of excretion (in urine) of two harmful chemicals: benzene and acrolein. Source
This article from NPR discusses a research study where participants were given half a cup of a beverage containing broccoli sprouts and explains that it helped remove a higher percentage of harmful toxins from the body. This is another example where adding cruciferous vegetables to your diet may have a positive health impact!
Dried fruit has provided sustenance for civilizations since ancient times. They have the same nutrients as fresh fruit, but with the water removed. The sugar concentration is higher because of it, so guidelines recommend eating smaller quantities. They are great for snacks or for travel mixes. I usually put dried cranberries in salads or in guacamole. Over time, I've come to rely on these five, so I call them the 'Pantheon of Dried Fruit'! Selecting dried fruit in its most pure form, without added sugars or color preserving agents (such as sulfur dioxide), is the best option if available.
Dried Mango Slices - source of a vast array of vitamins and minerals - mangos are called the 'King of Fruits' in some parts of the world
Figs - source of dietary fiber, potassium, B6, and manganese (Source)
Dates - more potassium than oranges, bananas, and spinach, large amounts of fiber, and a source of copper (Source)
Dried Cranberries - source of many anti-inflammatory compounds - note: dried cranberries are usually sweetened and may not have the same antioxidant potency as the fresh fruit (Source)
Dried Apricots - source of carotenoids, potassium, fiber - the orange color is maintained through sulfur dioxide - ones without the color preservative are much darker in color
Note: Benefits of these dried fruits was sourced from the web.
Kale, possibly the trendiest vegetable over the past two years, was mentioned 380 times more often in 2013 than four years earlier, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. Source
According to this article, kale, spinach, and arugula, among others are becoming much more popular on menus and moving from side dishes to center stage at restaurants across the country. Demand is so strong for dishes featuring these leafy greens that one restaurant mentioned bought its own farm to keep up with demand. Chefs are generating creative dishes with a variety of ingredients to accompany the greens to the delight of health focused consumers! Hopefully those tasting these great vegetable combinations at restaurants will be inclined to make them at home as well (which is not hard to do!).
Pumpkin is an amazing squash that is very versatile and full of healthy nutrients. It is commonly used during the holiday season for pumpkin pies, cookies, and as a seasonal ingredient in beverages. However, pumpkin has great potential in other dishes as well, including curries, soups, stews, and salads. It has a delicate flavor, mildly sweet in some varieties, and is very simple to cook and add to recipes. It also has a very nice texture. Some grocery stores sell small 1 kg pie pumpkins which are perfect for cooking in almost any recipe and are soft enough to cut open with a kitchen knife with little effort.
Pumpkin has several great nutritional qualities - here are some of them:
Cooking vegan food often means cooking with color - oranges, yellows, greens, and reds. Aside from the great flavor, it's nice to look at a meal that has a variety of hues. Now it's easier to add another color to your meals - purple! This article from Parade lists five purple vegetables that may be new to you including purple yams (pictured), carrots, kale, corn, and cauliflower. Some supermarkets now carry purple kale, yams, and potatoes. Purple carrots and cauliflower may be more common in farmer's markets. Peruvian purple potatoes are my favorite ingredients in roasted vegetables! Give it a try!
According to this article from the Daily Mail UK, NASA plans on growing vegetables for consumption on the space station by the end of the year. The purpose of the program is to develop an agricultural system in orbit that will provide food for astronauts on long space journeys, such as to Mars. The first vegetable grown will be romaine lettuce under LED lights.
Avocados are one of my favorite ingredients. I put them in smoothies, salads, sandwiches, and use them as a garnish on a variety of southwest style recipes. I eat them peeled and chopped with a dash of salt and lime juice. They are filling and healthy! This article fromt the Huff Post lists six more reasons why avocados are a wonderful vegan food and more specifically, a delicious fruit, including...
By substituting healthy vegetable fats – such as olive and canola oils, nuts, seeds and avocados – for animal fats and carbohydrates, men with the disease had a markedly lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer and dying from other causes, according to the study. Source
According to the study of 4,600 men by researchers at the UC San Francisco, healthy vegetable fat "increases plasma antioxidants and reduces insulin and inflammation" which may slow the growth of cancer in the prostate. Prostate cancer afflicts one in six men during their lifetime.
An interesting observation from the study was that among the participants with prostate illness, more men actually died of cardiovascular disease instead of complications from prostate cancer during the period of the research. This finding suggests that a healthy diet is important for all health issues, and not just a specific illness.
Unsaturated vegetable fats can come from a variety of ingredients including avocados, nuts and groundnuts, olives, and seeds among others. The study indicated that by replacing a portion of carbohydrates with vegetable fat was key to the health effect. Avocados in particular are easy to add to salads, spread onto sandwiches, and blend into smoothies. A great vegan ingredient, avocados are also filling and have a number of other health benefits.
This is good news for those at risk for or already fighting prostate cancer. Leading a healthy lifestyle enhanced by a plant-based diet is a good way to help the body defend itself against chronic illness and adding healthy vegetable fats to one's diet can be done quickly and easily with common vegan ingredients!
Listen to an informative interview with the lead researcher, Erin L. Richman, on JAMA's website.
Studies over the last 15 years, The Times reported, reveal that much of our produce is low in phytonutrients, the compounds that are supposed to reduce the risk of the four diseases that plague modern life: cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. And the decline in the health benefits of our food is not a recent development. Source
While proponents of veganism, including myself, tout the benefits of plant-based foods, we don't have a way to guarantee that the vegetables and fruits we see in the grocery store are the most nutritious forms of those ingredients. Every dietary regimen has its pitfalls.
The mass production of vegetables and fruit will gravitate to the best tasting, hardiest, cheapest, and easiest to grow versions of the product. It comes down to profits over nutritional value. This may have several consequences.
First, variety may be jeopardized. Rather than having six or seven types of tomatoes, we may only see two or three. Second, the lowest cost, highest volume version of a particular vegetable may not be the most nutritious type. For example, blue or purple corn has more anti-oxidant capacity than white corn, but white corn is the type we see most often in stores. Third, over time, studies have shown that the strain of a specific type of vegetable may lose its phytonutrient potency sacrificed for stronger, more robust strains that are easier to grow. For example, the original cabbage the grew in the wild before it was cultivated probably had a different nutritional profile than the cabbage we buy for $0.59 / lb in the stores today. Fourth, which is a more well know controversy, pesticides are a common ingredient in our non-organic produce which may or may not cause health problems, though proponents of pesticides will argue that there is no cause for alarm.
An example given in the article is that research on native peoples of the Americas who first foraged and then cultivated some of the original vegetables had fewer of the health problems and lower instances of the allergies that we experience today.
There are a few things that can be done to optimize your selection of good produce. Go to a farmers market once in a while and check out the different varieties of squash, potatoes, melons, peppers, tomatoes, kale, and mushrooms so that your ingredients stay dynamic and not stuck on the typical vegetables at the big box grocery stores. Try to buy local ingredients when possible, to minimize degradation during transportation. Buy organic if the price is manageable. And lastly, if you have the time, resources, and space, try planting your own garden and make 'farm to table' a reality!
Asparagus is in season during spring and you may see prices dropping in the store for this vegetable usually sold by the pound. I can't encourage you enough to eat as much of it as you can! Its flavor is light and delicate, and mildly sweet. It cooks very quickly especially in a saute. I normally make asparagus soup with it with lemon, ginger, and garlic.
Asparagus spears have as many as 25 minerals and vitamins with vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, iron, vitamin B1, and vitamin C topping the list. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and is a source of anti-oxidants which help prevent chronic illness. This vegetable is rich in fiber as well and aids the digestive system.
When cooking asparagus, keep it simple! Try to get the most from the vegetable by eating it as directly as possible and make meals where enjoy eating it as much as you can! Check out my asparagus soup recipe - it's a simple way to make the most of this nutritious vegetable!
Make Simple Vegan Meals