Itâ€™s harvest time!
The local markets have been bursting with ripe local produce. Weâ€™ve had a beautiful berry season, and heading into fall our focus turns to the hearty vegetables that carry us into the winter. This month many wonderful vegetables are in season; squashes, carrots, potatoes, greens such as escarole, bok choy, collards, kale and beet greens, and we still have corn available at some markets!
Vegetables can be somewhat intimidating to manyof us, especially those we did not grow up eating. Being raised in Alaska meant families relied heavily on heartier and more processed vegetables. I remember the first time I tasted â€œrealâ€ corn on the cob and when I moved down here only to discover not all tomatoes bounced when you dropped them! A friend of mine in high school had never had fresh pineapple and had no idea she would like it. The same can be said for the more exotic vegetables you may not be comfortable with: dinosaur kale, bok choy, delicata squash, and fresh beets are some of the favorites I have discovered as an adult.
This month weâ€™ll talk veg: how to choose, store, prepare and cook them; and why they are so essential to a vibrant, abundantly healthy life.
Iâ€™m also going to encourage you to go out on a limb and explore with a new vegetable. Head to your nearest farmerâ€™s market (many will remain open throughout the month) or grocery store and pick something new. You can bring it home and search for a recipe, or ask the produce person how to prepare it. Extra points for locally grown choices!
Please let me know what you choose, how you prepare it, and forward any recipes that you would love to share with others. The healthiest, most captivating recipe will be featured in a future newsletter, and the contest winner will receive a little gift on behalf of VIBRANCE Nutrition and Fitness!
To Your Health!
Vegetables are critical components of a healthy diet, yet in our rushed, convenient-valued society they are often left out. Vegetables contain an incredible amount of nutrients â€“ A, C, and B vitamins, minerals, fiber, and hundreds of known and unknown antioxidants and phytonutrients that protect our cells against disease and damage. They are the most â€œnutrient denseâ€ of all foods, meaning they provide the most beneficial nutrition for the least amount of calories.
Obviously, we can survive for quite some time without them â€“ most Americans do. But the deleterious effects of vegetable-neglect are subtle and far-reaching. Without adequate nutrients from vegetables we create a body susceptible to low energy, weakened immune system, and a wide range of degenerative diseases. The nutrients found in vegetables have been scientifically proven to be protective against heart disease, many forms of cancer, macular degeneration, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Studies conducted over populations consistently demonstrate that societies which consume the most vegetables live the longest and healthiest of all nations.
When choosing your vegetables, you want to reach for the highest quality produce available. This will greatly increase the available nutrients found in the plant, and consequently, available to you. Many studies have demonstrated that organically grown produce contains higher concentrations of nutrients and antioxidants than conventionally grown produce. There is also no reason to willingly encourage pesticide and herbicide consumption. These toxic chemicals accumulate in our fatty tissue and have widely unknown consequences, especially when they can potentially react with other chemicals and medications introduced into the human body.
, local produce has been known to have higher nutrient levels than non-local produce. The reasons here are simple. When faced with a long transport, produce is often picked under ripe so that it can reach its destination with minimal damage. Being picked before peak ripeness limits the potential nutrition that a plant can create. Also, as soon as a vegetable is picked, it no longer is on â€œlife supportâ€. Unlike fruit, vegetables do not continue to ripen after harvest; vitamins and other sensitive nutrients begin to break down after picking. Choosing locally grown, especially at the height of season, maximizes use of nutrition found in produce.
Finally, the maturity level of a vegetable is important. Young, tender vegetables have maximum nutrition. A plant with woody stalks, tough leaves and showing signs of decay is well past its prime and is on a nutrient descent. Look for vibrant colors, tender leaves, and lack of decay when choosing your vegetables. Produce staff are well trained in recognizing ideal produce â€“ ask them for advice on any specific vegetables you are uncertain of.
Once picked, vegetables are increasingly sensitive to nutrient breakdown because they no longer have incoming nourishment from the soil and root system. How we store our vegetables have a great influence on how well they retain their existing nutrient levels.
Different vegetables spoil at different rates (potatoes versus chard, for instance) and therefore have different needs. Generally speaking, cooler temperatures are best. The more sensitive members â€“ leafy greens, green beans, etc. are best kept in the refrigerator. Washing vegetables before refrigerating encourages spoiling, even if wrapped in a paper towel to reduce moisture condensation. It is best to store them in a tight-fitting glass or plastic container or a plastic vegetable storage bag (these are very effective at prolonging shelf life) and wash them right before use.
Vegetables such as potatoes, garlic, onions, winter squash, sweet potatoes, avocados and eggplants react negatively to refrigeration. These are best kept in a â€œroot cellarâ€ environment â€“ a cool dark area where temperatures are 50-60 degrees (garages are wonderful). These vegetables should only be refrigerated after they have been cut or cooked.