Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet. Beta-carotene can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can also be made in a laboratory.
Beta-carotene is used to decrease asthma symptoms caused by exercise; to prevent certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, and age related macular degeneration (AMD); and to treat AIDS, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, epilepsy, headache, heartburn, high blood pressure, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, and skin disorders including psoriasis and vitiligo. [Source: NIH]
When shopping for bell peppers, many stores will carry a variety of colors including green, red, yellow and orange. I've even seen purple bell peppers. Red bell peppers are a more mature version of the other colors and has some nice nutritional characteristics. Green bell peppers have 340 mcg of beta-carotene per cup while red bell peppers have 840 mcg. Also, green bell peppers have 12% of the daily value of Vitamin A while red bell peppers have 105%. Red bell peppers also have more Vitamin C than green bell peppers [Source]. Beta-carotene is an anti-oxidant described here:
So if you haven't tried cooking with bell peppers before, try adding them to your stir-fries, salads, soups, or roasted vegetable recipes. If you're used to using green bell peppers, try mixing in red bell peppers and check out the flavor. They provide nice color and taste and deliver a good dose vitamins and anti-oxidants.
Up until a few years ago, I didn't know anything about quinoa. Now it's my favorite grain substitute by far (it's actually a seed). I cook it all the time and it's replaced rice in my diet almost completely. My body digests it better than any other grain or seed. The protein value of quinoa is high as well, since it provides a complete protein containing all essential amino acids.
It used to be a staple of the Inca Empire in South America and has supported local Andean communities in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador until the 1990's, as described in this interesting article, when the U.S. started to import it. It grew in popularity, driven by health conscious consumers, and is now a global commodity. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization has named 2013 the 'The International Year of Quinoa'!
The popularity of the ingredient has impacted the local communities per the article. The price has increased which makes it harder for the local people to buy it now and the small farmers who were able to meet the demand are now being squeezed out by bigger farms. It's a common story and to be expected when an agricultural product goes from local to global and big money gets involved.
Most likely we'll see a trend to towards new quinoa products which are grown in a sustainable way
by small farmers (similar to chocolate). If these products appear, they may be the best ones to buy if supporting the local farmers is of interest. Regardless, the quinoa producing world will change as demand for this fabulous ingredient increases. Hopefully everyone in the Andean communities will benefit from the boom.
Honestly, I don't know. But, it's now one of my favorite winter squashes!
Kabocha squash has a slightly smoother flavor compared to acorn squash which is more common in grocery stores. The texture is similar to mashed potatoes once cooked and it blends well with many ingredients. I add agave nectar, a splash of white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, a bit of lime and olive oil, and serve it as a side dish.
Other recipes ideas include blending pinto beans and corn into the mash, making soup, or even making a dessert out of it. To cook, I cut it in half, put cut side down in a roasting pan, and heat at 400F for 45 minutes. After it is cooked it's fairly easy to work with. While not a regular in my kitchen, when it's available, I certainly get a couple to add variety to my meals and have fun doing so!
The urban farm concept is catching on now even in airports! Built on the second floor in between the terminals, this vertical garden supports several airport restaurants including Wolfgang Puck. The crops include basil, cilantro, lettuce, arugula, and edible flowers. It also gives the airport a nice fresh botanical feel and shows what can be done with urban gardening even in a compact busy environment. I hope they expand the garden and more airports and business try to replicate the model!
More evidence has been collected correlating mood and diet. This time a British study of 80,000 men and women found that feelings of well-being improved with diets rich in vegetables and fruits. In fact, they even calculated a servings amount for optimum happiness - 7. Three ounces was defined as a serving size. The more servings people ate up to seven servings, the better they felt!
This study helps confirm that a plant-based diet is not only good for physical health, but also mental health. It's a simple way to feel better and improve one's outlook on life. Further, when vegetables are cooked in a way that makes them taste great, feeling better becomes an enjoyable culinary experience!
Researchers in Italy analyzed the results of several studies regarding health and cruciferous vegetable consumption and concluded that reduced cancer rates was a likely outcome. Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Eating these vegetables at least once a week reduced the occurrence of some common cancers by 17%. The article in the UK's Healthcare Today provides more evidence that these vegetables have favorable health benefits.
Cabbage is an excellent ingredient for salad and stews and broccoli is great for stir-fries. Raw broccoli goes nicely in salads as well. There are many delicious ways to eat these healthy vegetables so try them out!
A grain legume develops its dry seeds within a pod. In India, for reference, it's called pulses. The seeds are edible and comprise one of the best sources of protein for a vegan diet. Legumes include lentils, peas, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and peanuts. They are also associated with high levels of fiber. They are low in saturated fat. Lentils have been consumed by various civilizations for as long as 13,000 years ago. When combining legumes with other vegetables, a full array of nutrients are delivered to the body assisting with the prevention of many chronic diseases. This article explains more about the benefits of six legumes.
Various ways I prepare legumes for regular consumption:
lentils - lentil soup, lentil quinoa salad, curried lentil stew, lentil chard soup
peas - tossed in stews and in salads
peanuts - peanut butter once in a while (no salt, no sugar variety)
black beans - black bean soup, tossed in salads, veggie burritos
chickpeas - added to vegetable soups, homemade hummus, curry stews
kidney beans - three bean chili
One of the best ways to get used to eating more vegetables in your meals is to chop them up into small bite-size pieces. It makes it easier to get used to the flavor, to chew, and to combine more veggies and other ingredients together for more complex flavors. For instance, when making a kale salad, chop the leafs as finely as possible so they almost look like confetti and then add the dressing. The dressing will combine nicely with the kale and produce a manageable salad for those unused to the leafy green's flavor.
Studies suggest that eating foods in bite-sized portions is more filling and rewarding for both humans and animals. One idea is that food cut into smaller pieces may actually seem like a larger quantity than the food mass as a whole which triggers greater feelings of reward. The study is explained more clearly in this article. So it's possible that eating veggies in this manner will make them more palatable and satiating as well.
My new favorite snack food is roasted seaweed! It tastes good, is very lightly salted, and doesn't fill you up like other snacks such as potato chips. While this has been common snack food in east Asia, it's now offered in supermarkets by various brands. I liked seaweed with cucumber or avocado rolls but I never tried it alone. Now I'm hooked and get it every time I visit the grocery store.
I referenced the health benefits in an earlier blog on sea vegetables as a new eating trend and its finally starting to go mainstream. Low in calories with good doses of vitamin C and A, it makes snacking healthy. Roasted seaweed is easy to chew and adds some variety to the diet. It also makes a nice garnish to top salads and rice dishes. Some brands are higher in salt than others so try to find the low sodium versions. It will be fun to see which sea vegetable is the next big hit!
It took me a while to add kale to my diet. I found the texture a bit rough and the flavor to be not as sweet as cabbage which I like a lot in salads. However, I worked it into a few of my recipes and now I eat it often. Kale is the main ingredient in three recipes that I make regularly - kale almond cranberry salad, kale lima bean soup, and a veggie stir-fry that I serve over long grain brown rice.
The benefits of eating kale are too numerous to list in this post, but this article has uncovered research for yet one more - eye health!
Make Simple Vegan Meals