Charles Stuart Platkin: Vegetables Beneficial to the Body In Every Way
The Augusta Chronicle, 09-08-05
I recently saw a public health ad that featured a photo of a mother pointing and saying, "Remember when your mom told you to eat your vegetables."
Well, Mom was right, and she didn't even know all the yet-to-be- discovered research that supports eating plenty of vegetables. Vegetables help you lose weight because they're high in fiber and water, so you get a lot of food for few calories. In addition, they fight disease.
Experts recommend eating a variety of vegetables, and here are the best of the best:
Why: Low-calorie and inexpensive, broccoli also is one of the tastiest and most healthful vegetables, and it's readily available year-round and easy to prepare.
Nutrients: It's high in vitamins A, C and K (which helps keep bones strong), it's a great source of iron and folate (lacking in our diet), and it has plenty of fiber. One cup of steamed broccoli has 44 calories.
Health perks: According to Karen Collins, the nutrition adviser to The American Institute for Cancer Research, "Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli have been linked with a lower risk of colon, prostate, lung and other cancers."
Broccoli contains phytochemicals, including beta-carotene, indoles and isothiocyanates. Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to suppress not only breast tumor cell growth but also cancer cell movement to other areas of the body. Indoles also block carcinogens before they start the damage that allows cancer to develop, and they cause cancer cells to self-destruct.
Another substance in broccoli, sulforaphane, boosts the body's detoxification enzymes, thus helping clear potentially carcinogenic substances more quickly. Broccoli also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, said to protect the eyes from ultraviolet light damage and cataracts.
Purchasing tips: Aliza Green, the author of Field Guide to Produce (Quirk Books, 2004), says to choose dark-green bunches, which indicate high nutrient value. Florets that are dark green, purplish or bluish-green contain more beta-carotene and vitamin C than paler or yellowing ones. Choose stalks that are very firm, not rubbery. Avoid broccoli with open, flowering, discolored or water- soaked bud clusters and tough, woody stems. As for storage, "Refrigerate unwashed in an airtight bag for up to four days," Ms. Green advises.
Uses: Enjoy raw in salads, cooked in soups or sauteed with garlic and a little olive oil.
Why: It's packed with an amazing quantity of nutrients for very few calories, and it tastes great either hot or cold.
Nutrients: It's a great source of vitamins A, B2, C and K, and folate, potassium, magnesium, beta-carotene and fiber. One cup of steamed spinach has 42 calories.
Health perks: "Spinach is helpful in controlling blood pressure, keeping blood vessels healthy, reducing cancer risk and slowing the development of age-related eye damage (macular degeneration).
Spinach also seems to protect against breast cancer risk linked to excess alcohol," Ms. Collins says.
Spinach has 13 flavonoid compounds that function as antioxidants and anti-cancer agents. Vitamin C, beta-carotene and lutein also reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping cholesterol from building up on artery walls. Lutein and zeaxanthin also seem to protect the eyes from ultraviolet light damage and cataracts.
Lutein and folate also might protect against birth defects. According to one recent study, a carotenoid called neoxanthin helps destroy prostate cancer cells.
Purchasing tips: Ms. Green recommends "deeply colored, crisp, perky leaves that are unbroken - avoid yellow leaves." Spinach spoils quickly, so check for any unpleasant odor if you are unsure it's still good. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two to three days.
Uses: Add to pastas, soups, casseroles and salads. Substitute for lettuce. Replace spinach for a third of the eggs or half the cheese in your morning omelet or even in lasagna - it will add volume and flavor with fewer calories.
Why: It can fight disease and make vegetables (and most food) taste great.
Nutrients: Garlic is an excellent source of manganese, a very good source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C and a good source of selenium. One clove has about 4 calories.
Health perks: "Substances in garlic block formation of nitrosamines, which have been linked to stomach cancer. In addition, garlic's phytochemicals stimulate enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, potentially stopping cancer before it even starts," Ms. Collins says.
Garlic's organic sulfides and polysulfides disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells. Garlic is reported to enhance immune function by stimulating lymphocytes and macrophages to destroy cancer cells.
Allicin, which is released when a clove is cut or crushed, has anti-microbial properties that inhibit a wide variety of bacteria, molds, yeasts and viruses. Garlic might reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in addition to triacylglycerol without affecting HDL (good) cholesterol.
Purchasing tips: Choose large, plump, firm bulbs with tight, unbroken sheaths, Ms. Green says. Avoid soft, spongy or shriveled bulbs or those with a green sprout in the center. Store up to three weeks in the refrigerator.
Uses: Saute chopped garlic in a bit of cooking spray with chicken, spinach and broccoli for an antioxidant-rich, delicious dish. Eat a couple of cloves a week or up to five cloves a day for benefits, Ms. Collins says. Chopping garlic activates its phytochemicals. Cooking it too much, however, destroys that enzyme, so chop garlic and let it rest, then add toward the end of cooking, Ms. Collins recommends.
CHARLES STUART PLATKIN IS A NUTRITION AND PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCATE, THE AUTHOR OF Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005) and Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and the founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Copyright 2005 by Charles Stuart Platkin. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.