The Better Way to Veg Out
With all due respect to kale, the now-ubiquitous leaf that has risen to veggie superstar status, just how much of it can a person be expected to eat? "Trendy vegetables are great, but so are other, more mundane types," says Tonia Reinhard, director of clinical nutrition at Wayne State University School of Medicine and author of "Superfoods: The Healthiest Foods on the Planet." And one key to good nutrition, she maintains, is variety.
Here are 10 neglected vegetables that have serious nutritional value for adults over 50. Steam, stir-fry, roast or grill them. Or toss them into the blender and then take a sweet sip. However you like your veggies, Reinhard says, that's the way you should eat them.
Besides being waistline friendly (one cup is just 44 calories) and packed with fiber, the humble green bean is loaded with folate. Research shows a link between eating more folate-rich foods and lower risks of colon and breast cancers. String beans are also a way to get your daily dose of vitamin C.
Think chicken and fish are the best ways to get lean protein? It's time to take a closer look at green peas. One cup has roughly the same amount of protein as a glass of milk. Plus, each spoonful delivers folate and vitamin B6, which is important to older adults' immune-system functions. Peas also contain the antioxidants lutein and beta carotene — key nutrients to help protect your vision. All that and they'll help lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
At first glance, a turnip may look a bit intimidating, but when you brave slicing into one, you'll find it's surprisingly versatile. Roast it, boil it, add it to soups and stews — and that's just the root. You can use the greens to garnish a sandwich, toss them into a salad or stir-fry, or sauté them with onions and olive oil. However they're prepared, turnips are a good source of fiber, calcium and vitamins (including B6 and C). They also contain compounds that studies show help stimulate the immune system and support proper liver function.
Many people love beets for their color, but for their taste? Not so much. Reinhard says that's probably because the beets haven't been prepared well. She recommends that you scrub the entire beet, including the tops, rub it with olive oil and some salt and pepper, and then roast it. If that doesn't turn you into a convert, try pickled beets or beet hummus, or blend a few beets into a smoothie. They're worth the trouble: Beets contain a host of antioxidants that have both anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. And they're outstanding sources of fiber, folate and potassium, which can help counter the effect that too much sodium can have on blood pressure.
This is another underappreciated vegetable. "People are always surprised to learn that corn has a lot of nutritional value," says Reinhard. Eat more of it if you're concerned about protecting your eyes as you get older. That's because corn is loaded with phytochemicals that promote healthy vision. Corn also contains folate and magnesium, which your body needs for several functions, including regulating blood pressure and controlling blood glucose.
If nutritionists had their way, the familiar "apple a day" maxim would be replaced by "a cup of broccoli a day keeps the doctor away." That's because this superfood is loaded with fiber, folate and vitamins A, C and K. It's also a source of potassium (which plays a protective role in heart health), manganese and magnesium. Researchers recently discovered that eating broccoli produces sulforaphane, which helps prevent cancer. Other nutrients in the crunchy green help rid the body of air pollution toxins. Reinhard calls broccoli a "one-stop nutritional shop."
White vegetables have an undeserved bad nutritional rap. But cauliflower is an example of why you can't judge a food by its color. Like its cruciferous sibling broccoli, cauliflower is packed with vitamins and minerals that help support a healthy immune system and get you closer to your daily fiber needs. Although broccoli has a slight nutritional edge, cauliflower is more versatile in cooking. Its pale hue and mild flavor won't give it away when you steam and mash it and add it to sauces or soups, or even use it as a pasta filling.
Another chameleon in the kitchen, cabbage is a chef's secret to enlivening broths, soups, stir-frys, fish tacos and salads. And, of course, it's great stuffed. But in health circles, it gets high marks for its assortment of nutrients — starting with antioxidants, calcium, fiber and potassium and ending with vitamins C and K, which can help you maintain strong bones as you get older. There's even some omega-3 fatty acids in each crisp bite.
There's lots to love about celery. Eaten raw, the crunchy stalks can help to lower high blood pressure. It contains antioxidants that guard against many types of cancer and support a healthy immune system. And the compound that gives celery its distinctive flavor has also been shown to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. But there's more. Celery is good for both your digestive system (credit here goes to its high water and fiber content) and your nervous system (thanks to magnesium and other minerals). It also helps reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Although we can't recommend eggplant parmesan (breaded, fried, smothered in cheese — c'mon, you're not surprised), we have plenty of good things about this sculptural beauty. It's high in fiber, which is good for your digestive system and helps you stay full. Plus, it contains bioflavonoids, antioxidants that help control high blood pressure and reduce stress. Eggplant is also packed with calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and other minerals.
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