All Vegetables Matter

Do you know the tasty truth about veggies? Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S.,R.D. reveals her tips!

Recently, I watched a well-known celebrity chef on a national television show advise people about the health benefits of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. She displayed an array of deeply-hued produce, and gushed about the nutrients that colorful fruits and vegetables offer.

Color counts but that’s not the whole story when it comes to produce, particularly vegetables.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

(1) Eat A Variety of Fruits and Veggies

Research shows that eating at least 2 ½ cups of fruit and vegetables daily is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Certain produce helps protect against some types of cancer, too.

Getting enough fruits and vegetables is a challenge for most of us, as fewer than 1 in 10 Americans meet the suggested daily intakes. To make meal planning easier, MyPlate, the government’s new symbol for healthy eating, advises filling half your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables that offer an array of nutrients.

For example:

• Beans are rich in protein, a nutrient most vegetables lack, and they also deliver iron and zinc in levels similar to those in seafood, meat, and poultry.

• Citrus fruits, kiwi, and tomatoes are particularly rich in vitamin C.

• Sweet potatoes, carrots, and cantaloupe are packed with beta-carotene, which provides their bright orange hue, protects cells against damage, and serves as the raw material for making vitamin A in the body.

(2) Pale is Pretty

Consumers are often encouraged to eat brightly colored vegetables because they’re loaded with nutrients, but that gives white and tan vegetables short shrift.

No one vegetable or fruit is more nutritious or beneficial than another. Scientific research has proved that white and tan vegetables (and white fruits, such as bananas) are packed with valuable nutrients.

Here’s what white and tan vegetables bring to the table, and interesting ways I prepare them for my family:

Mushrooms: Mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and is needed for strong bones and teeth. All mushroom varieties supply vitamin D, but growers can increase vitamin D levels by exposing mushrooms to ultraviolet light. One serving (about 4-5 white button or crimini mushrooms, or one portabella) of light-exposed mushrooms can provide close to 400 IU of vitamin D – that’s two-thirds of the suggested 600 IU everyone over the age of one needs daily.

In addition to being relatively low in calories, very low in sodium, and free of fat and cholesterol, mushrooms provide B vitamins, selenium, potassium, and more.  Mushrooms are packed with compounds that boost your immunity and may help protect against cancer.

I sauté sliced white button mushrooms to go with meat, chicken or fish, and I swear by portabello burgers on whole grain buns because they’re easy to make and delicious. I often swap half the meat in my favorite pasta, pizza, and burger recipes for chopped, sautéed mushrooms.

Cauliflower: Cauliflower contains antioxidants, vitamin C, the B vitamin folate, potassium, fiber, and anti-cancer compounds.

In spite of its many health benefits, cauliflower is not always an easy sell at the dinner table. Cauliflower has a strong taste, and it may take time for your family to fall in love with it like I have.

I roast cauliflower to bring out its sweetness and because it’s easy. Chop a head of cauliflower into bite-size pieces, place on a baking sheet, and coat lightly with olive oil. Cook at 400˚F until crisp-tender – about 15 minutes.

We also like pureed cauliflower. Cut up a head of cauliflower and steam it until very tender. Place in a food processor and blend with a bit of tub margarine, a tablespoon or two of milk, and grated Parmesan cheese.

Potatoes: Potatoes have been blamed for weight problems and a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, but it’s difficult to believe that eating spuds as part of a balanced diet is the cause of what’s ailing us.

Potatoes provide carbohydrate, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. One medium potato has 110 calories, as long as they’re not fried or slathered in butter.

Stuffed baked potatoes are nearly a meal, and kids love them. Slice a medium baked potato in half lengthwise and reserve potato shells. Scoop out the inside and mash; mix with ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese, 1 cup chopped, cooked vegetables, and your choice of seasonings. Spoon filling into the potato shells and sprinkle with ¼ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese. Bake on a baking sheet for 10 minutes in 400˚F oven or until cheese melts.

Stir leftover mashed potatoes into soup to increase nutrition, boost vegetable intake, and create a creamy texture.

As a registered dietitian and mother of three, I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like. That goes double for the vegetables my kids will eat without a fuss, including the pale ones like mushrooms, cauliflower and potatoes!

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