Alan Frischer, MD, MPH
Like many of our mothers, I find myself telling my patients to eat more vegetables. Why? Because a diet rich in vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower the risk of eye and digestive problems, keep our appetites in check filling us with high fiber foods, and lower our blood sugar.
Although all vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, and are low in calories as well, they differ. Let’s take a look at a few.
Spinach happens to be my personal favorite. (Insert Popeye joke of your choice.) I eat it every day, in salads, sandwiches, pasta, scrambled eggs, soups, and particularly in my morning smoothie (read on for my recipe!). It is a great source of calcium, vitamins, iron, and antioxidants, and benefits the heart by lowering blood pressure. For those who are lactose intolerant and avoid dairy, it’s a great alternate source for calcium and iron.
Kale has become very popular. Growing up, I remember it only as decoration on deli platters! It is a dark leafy green vegetable that is rich in vitamins A, C, and K. It can help to lower cholesterol, with some studies showing up to 10% in reduction of “bad” LDL, and a 27% increase in “good” HDL. It can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Kale is great in pasta dishes, salads, smoothies, soups, kale chips, and sandwiches.
Broccoli contains the full daily requirement of vitamin K, and twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, in just one cup. There is evidence in animal research that chemicals found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli can inhibit the development of some cancers, including bladder, breast, liver, and stomach. Try roasting, steaming, frying, blending into soups, throwing into salads…or just dip it raw.
Cauliflower is another cruciferous vegetable, containing plenty of vitamins C and K, fiber and antioxidants. Eat it baked or raw, buy it riced, or make a pizza crust.
Sweet potatoes are root vegetables. When baked in its skin, a medium sweet potato contains some 100 calories with almost no fat, more than a day’s requirement of vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as potassium and beta carotene (for the eyes). They are great for diabetics because they are low on the glycemic index, and are rich in fiber. They can be eaten by simply baking them in the skin or roasting them in olive oil with a little salt and pepper.
Beets are also root vegetables, and contain potassium and folate. They are rich in nitrates, and can improve heart health and lower blood pressure. They contain antioxidants, which (among other things) may help to control diabetes. They can be roasted, juiced, or added to salads and sandwiches.
Carrots are so easy. A cup contains over four times the daily requirement of vitamin A (for healthy eyesight). Nutrients found in carrots are associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Carrots can be thrown into casseroles, soups, and stews; eaten raw by themselves or in salads; dipped in hummus or ranch dressing; or juiced.
Tomatoes are technically a fruit, yet most of us treat them as vegetables. They contain potassium, vitamin C, and lycopene, an antioxidant which may to help prevent prostate cancer. Other antioxidants in tomatoes, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, may reduce the risk of macular degeneration. They can be eaten raw or cooked, in soups and stews, and of course, in sandwiches.
Peas are sweet and starchy. They are rich in fiber protein, as well as vitamins A, C, K, and B, and saponins, which may help to fight cancer. Try keeping a bag of frozen peas on hand to be tossed into pasta, risotto, soups, and curry dishes.
Onions are closely related to chives, garlic, and leeks. They contain vitamin C and B6, and manganese. They are easy to incorporate into soups, stews, stir fry dishes, and curries. When raw they are extremely high in antioxidants.
Garlic is used in cooking, and in medicine as well. Although it is low in vitamins and minerals, it may have natural antibiotic capabilities. It can be eaten raw, cooked, broiled, or added to so many foods.
Bell peppers are mostly green, yellow, orange, or red (green bell peppers are the least ripe and the most bitter, and red are the sweetest). They are rich in vitamins C and B6, folate, beta carotene, antioxidants, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, and carotenoids. Try them in pasta, scrambled eggs, and salads; or dipped in hummus or guacamole.
Seaweed is a sea vegetable and includes kelp, nori, sea lettuce, spirulina, and wakame. It has omega-3 fatty acids, which lower cholesterol and help to prevent stroke and heart attack; and iodine, antioxidants, and chlorophyll (an anti-inflammatory). I eat seaweed in sushi, miso soup, plain, and in salads.
Fermenting vegetables adds probiotics to our diets. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that improve gut health, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and may help to prevent bowel infections. Cabbage turns into sauerkraut when fermented, and cucumbers, carrots, and cauliflower can be pickled. Add them to salads and sandwiches, or eat them as side dishes.
There are so many vegetables to choose from – I urge you to pick your favorites and eat them daily. My morning smoothie recipe? Blend together a very generous handful of baby spinach, four ice cubes, a handful of fresh or frozen blueberries, a half of a fresh or frozen banana, a heaping teaspoon of plain Greek yogurt, another heaping teaspoon of peanut butter, a third of a medium avocado, a splash of any kind of milk or milk substitute, and my “secret” ingredient: a half dozen semi-sweet chocolate chips. Bon appétit!