Monday, July 30, 2012

Savour the Summer with Local Veggies!

If you think Summer vegetables are limited to tomatoes and peppers, you're missing out on a wealth of nutritious flavour waiting right outside your door! Most vegetables are dead-simple to plant and care for once you choose your seedlings, and those green thumbs have a world of seeds to choose from if they care to start their own "from scratch". Guidance is more than available, whether at the local greenhouse, the farmers market, in books or even online, and the rewards will speak for themselves after that first "still warm from the sun" tomato or sweet, crunchy carrot. Even if you don't grow your own veggies in the backyard, visiting a nearby farmers market is a great way to support the agriculture business in your area while trying something new. Whether backyard or farmyard, chances are that whatever you bring to your table is organically grown (many farmers selling at local markets simply cannot afford the fees to certify their crops as "organic", nor can they afford many conventional pesticides or additives used on commercially farmed land). 

If the only local fruit and veggies you find are conventionally grown, a good wash in a baking soda and water bath will get rid of most of the chemicals and waxes out there - and if it's a choice between local, conventional produce and imported organic, choose local. Imports don't necessarily follow the same regulations as Canadian organic labelling agencies, and in order to appear on the store shelf looking perfectly ripe they're picked green, without much of their flavour and nutrition potential. 

There's lots of variety in Canadian produce this season! Pick up some old favourites and try something new to your palate too. Who knows, you might find a new love in kohlrabi or discover that you actually do like beets when they're not boiled to death or from a can! Check out the local library, hop online or, even better, ask the farmer himself for recipe ideas, and play with adding your own flair to the produce. Any intake of fruit and vegetables is preferable to none, so get some rainbow on your plate today... while the growing is good!

Check out what's commonly available in Canada below:

All varieties of carrots contain valuable amounts of antioxidant nutrients. Included here are traditional antioxidants like vitamin C, as well as phytonutrient antioxidants like carotenoids, hydroxycinnamic acids, and anthocyanins. Depending on the colour, carrots' content of these differ: red and purple carrots have greater anthocyanin levels, while orange ones are packed with beta-carotene (65% of their total carotenoid content!). Yellow carrots are filled with eye-protecting lutein. Carrots also contain a wealth of vitamin A, that also enhances eye health, bone growth, reproduction, cell function, and immunity. Try any of my carrot recipes on for size - they're a great way to enjoy this root veggie!

Beets are richly coloured and packed with antioxidant betalains. The purplish betacyanins and yellow betaxanthins create the colour of the roots, and both of them are potent antioxidants. Those looking for heart protection, as well as those of childbearing age (both men and women), will find folate and potassium in the bulb and leaves, while the detoxifying manganese and vitamin C are of interest to everyone. as well as heart-healthy potassium. Fibre, copper, and magnesium help keep the digestive and nervous systems healthy, while both iron and phosphorus help boost energy production. However, cook beets lightly (if at all). Beets' concentration of important disease-protecting phytonutrients, decreases steadily when exposed to heat for longer than 15 minutes.

This vegetable is infamous as a health food, and for good reason! With vitamins C, K, A and E, it has an impressive free-radical fighting team, and also has a good dose of folate, potassium, calcium, selenium, manganese and molybdenum to protect the heart, bones and nervous system. Energy-generating assistants B6, B2, B1, B3, B5, iron and phosphorous are also found in the dark green florets and stems, while the fibre and sulfur promote digestive health and protect against stomach and colon cancer. If you want to maximize the absorption and use of these nutrients, make sure to either cook or dress broccoli with a small amount of oil - the fat-soluble vitamins as well as iron need it for proper digestion. Try it in a pesto with walnuts, or cooked into a healthier version of Broccoli Beef.

Green onion
The slender green onion is no slim picking nutritionally. With over 10% of your RDA for vitamin A, 9% of your vitamin C, and a quarter of your needs for vitamin K, they're a zippy way to get a wealth of goodness everyday. These bright green stalks also contain compounds that help lower blood pressure and cholesterol! Mix minced green onions into burgers, pasta, egg and potato salads, deviled eggs, omelettes and starchy side dishes like rice, pasta and mashed potatoes.

Radishes are peppery, crisp bites that house large amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals key in maintaining skin, bone, nerve and gut health. Each 100-gram serving contains 25% of the RDI of vitamin C per 100 g, as well as high levels of folate, B6, riboflavin and thiamin. These root veggies also house energy- and nerve-maintaining minerals like iron, magnesium, copper and calcium, and cancer-fighting phytochemicals and sulfuric compounds. For a twist, try roasting them instead of eating them raw - the heat takes away a bit of the sharpness, resulting in a new potato-like texture with a light peppery taste.

Rhubarb has a unique estrogen-mimicing phytochemical called lindleyin that can both reduce high and increase low levels of the naturally produced hormone in the body. This capability is similar to the phytoestrogens in soy and is potent for relieving hot flashes during menopause, preventing menstrual cramps and even reducing ovarian and breast cysts. This easy to grow (some might say too easy to grow) vegetable is also filled with potassium, vitamins C and A, fibre, and calcium. Because the wealth of calcium in rhubarb is locked in by oxalic acid, it's necessary to cook the stalks before enjoying - ideally with a half-teaspoon of calcium carbonate powder per pound of vegetable to maximize the breakdown of the oxalate. Try it in both sweet treats, like Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet, or made into a savoury chutney to serve with roasted meat.

Popeye may have been mistaken in eating canned, gloopy spinach for muscle bulking, but the good news is that this leafy green is a protectant against inflammation, oxidative stress, heart and bone issues and cancer - whether raw or cooked.With vitamins, A, C, and K, folate, and the minerals manganese, magnesium and iron, spinach is a great leafy green to add to salads, soups, pasta and rice dishes. The vegetable also has cancer-fighting flavonoids, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and heart-healthy niacin and selenium. Enjoy fresh baby spinach (which doesn't have as much oxalic acid as it's full-grown counterpart) raw in salad, and saute, steam or boil mature leaves with a touch of acid and oil to maximize the flavour and nutrient potential. Try a baked cheese and "meat" lasagne or a black bean and tomato pasta toss for dinner tonight!

Green beans
Frequently found as overcooked, limp strings on buffet tables and at family potlucks, freshly cooked green beans provide a wealth of goodness. Carotenoids like lutein, beta-carotene, violaxanthin, and neoxanthin, antioxidant vitamins C and A, bone protecting silicon, vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium as well as fibre and trace minerals also find a home in this vegetable. Add them to a bright, fresh mixed bean salad or toss some sauteed or lightly steamed pods with roasted or canned tomatoes for a delicious, bright side dish.

Zucchini and summer squash
These vegetables are infamous for their ability to grow into backyard behemoths overnight, but their nutritional qualities are nothing to sniff at either! Summer squash (a family that includes zucchini, pattypan, crookneck and cousa) is an excellent source of vitamin C, B6 and B2, and is also packed with trace minerals like manganese and molybdenum that help your liver and digestive enzymes work. The potassium in these low-calorie vegetables also helps to lower your blood pressure, and the folate both protects your heart and can promote fetal health. Try it baked into an elegant, summery ratatouille, baked into crispy "fries" or made into elegant "boats" filled with Mediterranean flavours.

Swiss chard
With 13 polyphenol antioxidants, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory agents, chard is a great green (or rainbow!) to have on your table. Compounds in this plant can help regulate blood sugar, and the incredible amount of vitamin K (715.9% of the RDI in one cup!) keeps bones in tip-top shape. It also has a wealth of vitamins A, C, and E, potassium that keeps blood pressure in check, fibre for your gut and both B vitamins and iron for a boost of energy. You can find green, red and rainbow varieties at the farmer's market, and the flavour is similar to spinach. Try the leaves sauteed and served warm with grated beets and a local chevre for lunch, or in a hearty whole wheat pasta dish for dinner. The stalks make a fabulous roasted side dish baked with a touch of olive oil and grated Parmesan.

and finally...

The darling of the summer garden, tomatoes are popular both for their sweet, tangy flavour and their antioxidant levels. One of the most talked about of these cancer-fighting compouds is lycopene, which is well documented for it's role in preventing prostate malignancies and recently been linked to increased bone mass in postmenopausal women. The fruit-vegetable (being classified as either or both depending on the source) is also a great source of other carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, flavonoids, hydroxycinnamic acids, glycosides and fatty acids that help the body maintain immune function and destroy free radicals. Tomatoes also hold a ton of vitamins C, K, E, A, B6, B1 and folate, along with minerals like molybdenum, manganese, phosphorus, iron, copper and potassium that help the body's blood, nerves, digestive enzymes and liver function at peak performance. These Summer beauties are perfect fresh or cooked (raw ones are higher in water soluble vitamins and active enzymes, while the cooked variety is more concentrated in carotenoids), so try tossing a handful of grape or cherry tomatoes into a green salad or try a roasted tomato tart for lunch or a light supper. Whatever you do - never refrigerate your tomatoes! Refrigeration causes loss of flavour and an offputting, sandy texture. Leave them at room temperature and try to enjoy them fresh within a week and a half. Extras can be dried, canned in their own juices, cooked into a salsa or sauce or roasted with some simple herbs and frozen or refrigerated until needed.

What's your favourite summer vegetable?

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About Me

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!