As part of the National Nutrition Weeks push to “Try for 5” I thought it would be timely to jot down some of the positives of eating veg and a few ‘veg factoids’. Eating vegetables (and to be fair, I can’t exclude fruit here) provides significant health benefits specifically when it comes to chronic disease prevention. For example greater intake of vegetables and fruits is linked to a lower risk of premature death and morbidity from Alzheimer disease, cardiovascular disease and some kinds of cancer (including lung cancer and cancer of the gastrointestinal system).
Apart from the fibre content, compounds called phytochemicals are responsible for the potent health protective, antioxidant and anti-cancer effects and over 5000 different varieties have been identified to date. The focus was initially the antioxidant effects, however recent research suggests phytochemicals have multiple actions beyond antioxidant activity and are frequently complimentary, working in synergy to have a greater overall health impact.
A few researched examples of the health benefits of phytochemicals include:
- Quercetin – found in onions and apples – anti-inflammatory
- Lutein and zeaxanthin – from spinach – supports eye health and reduces the risk of macular degeneration
- Lycopene – from tomatoes and watermelon – protect against prostate cancer.
- Carotenoids – antioxidant – research shows improvement in skin colour and tone with increased intake.
Phytochemicals in plants often provide the rich pigment that gives vegetables their colour e.g. antioxidant carotenoids range from yellow to deep red. Keeping in mind the additive and synergistic effects means that variety is essential, mixing up the different types and colours of vegetable for maximum benefit. I call this the ‘rainbow effect’, which is a little hippy but can be clearly illustrated when looking down at a plate of food – how many colours are visible!
So with the “Try for 5” upcoming, see if you can challenge yourself to be creative when it comes to getting in your 5 serves daily. For inspiration I have included some veg challenges below:
- Include as many different coloured vegetables on the plate as you possibly can (see the rainbow list at the end of the article).
- Have all-one colour vegetable meal – compare the overall taste to the previous rainbow plate.
- See how many different vegetables you can incorporate in one dish/meal.
- Try a new vegetable, one you have never eaten before. For me recently this was fermented daikon – yumbo. The recipe can be found in Sally Fallon’s recipe book Nourishing Traditions.
- Just see if you can make 5 serves of veg a day for a week.
If you get really excited, feel free to post them on Facebook!
Finally I am leaving you with my favourite veg dish of the moment. I am currently in love with cauliflower and so have included my favourite recipe below, which is a variation from one I read in Sarah Wilson’s book Simplicious:
- 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 1 onion finely chopped
- ½ cup of sliced almonds
- 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup of olive oil
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Combine all ingredients in a large baking dish and toss well until the cauliflower is evenly coated in spices and oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until cauliflower is crsipy and brown on top. Remove from the oven and serve with chopped parsley or fresh coriander. You can also add a dollop of natural yoghurt. It makes an excellent side dish.
Rainbow Veg list – this is not exhaustive so feel free to think of more!
- Green vegetables: broccoli, spinach, broccoli, broccolini, Brussel sprouts, romaine, collard, turnip, and mustard greens, kale, green leafies, okra, green peas and beans, zucchini
- Red and orange vegetables: tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, red cabbage, beetroot, red onion
- Yellow vegetables – corn, yellow onions
- Red/purple vegetables – red cabbage, beetroot, red onion, kidney beans, red potatoes
- White – parsnip, white potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, leek, daikon