If you’re following Canada Food Guide’s advice to eat more vegetables (e.g., “fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit”), chances are broccoli, spinach, sweet potato and carrots have a regular spot on your menu. Excellent choices, since the darker and brighter the colour, the more nutrients and phytochemicals that are packed inside.
But many of the vegetables we often pass up in the produce aisle – those that lack a bright hue or ones we think are less than stellar nutritionally – are surprisingly good for you.
Add variety to your meals with these five underestimated vegetables. Get to know their defining nutritional qualities with tasty and creative ways to add them to your diet.
Celery: This crunchy, tangy vegetable is having its day on social media. Proponents claim that celery juice, a so-called miracle elixir, can balance blood sugar, heal eczema, restore fertility, promote weight loss and cure a myriad of illnesses.
While there’s little, if any, scientific evidence to back up such claims, including celery in your diet does offer nutritional benefits.
Two medium stalks, for instance, is a decent source of folate, potassium and bone-building vitamin K. Celery also contains flavones, antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, and phthalides, phytochemicals thought to relax blood vessels. Not bad for 18 calories.
Add shaved raw celery (use a vegetable peeler) to bean and whole grain salads, stir chopped celery into soups and chili, or blend celery into a fruit smoothie (it pairs well with apple). Dip it into hummus, tzatziki, almond butter or tuna salad.
Radishes: These peppery root vegetables deserve more than a spot on your crudité tray. They offer folate, vitamin C, potassium and even a little calcium.
Radishes also contain sulforaphane, a phytochemical with anti-cancer properties, and pelargonidin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that gives them their red colour. (Pelargonidin belongs to the same family of phytochemicals found in berries and red grapes.)
Toss slivered or sliced radish into green salads, fish tacos, wraps and sandwiches. Cut radishes in half and roast or grill them and serve as a vegetable side dish.
Mushrooms: One cup of raw whole mushrooms (about 10 small or five medium) provides 20 per cent to 25 per cent of a day’s worth of niacin, a B vitamin that’s used to make stress hormones, improve circulation and reduce inflammation. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of selenium, a mineral that acts as an antioxidant and is needed to make thyroid hormones. They also supply potassium, copper and iron.
Add sautéed mushrooms to a bed of baby spinach and top with toasted pine nuts and crumbled goat cheese. Or enjoy them as a side dish sautéed with a splash of balsamic vinegar
Serve sautéed herbs and diced vegetables or cooked crab in raw or cooked mushroom caps. Add slices of grilled portobella mushrooms to a grilled vegetable platter (one cup delivers 4 g of protein and 5 g of fibre).
Green peas: Pea protein is getting plenty of recognition these days as plant-based eating becomes more popular. You’ll find it added to meatless burgers, non-dairy milks, smoothies, pastas and energy bars.
You can increase your intake of plant protein, plus other key nutrients, by adding whole green peas to your menu. One half-cup supplies 4 g of protein along with 4 g of fibre and a decent amount of folate and vitamin K.
Green peas are also a good source of choline, a B-like vitamin that’s involved in memory and muscle function. And they offer lutein, a phytochemical that keeps your eyes healthy by protecting against cataract and macular degeneration.
Stir green peas into a pasta sauces, whole wheat macaroni and cheese and cooked whole grains. Blend them into soups or sauté them with garlic and other chopped vegetables for a side dish. Add cold cooked peas to leafy green salads and tuna salad.
Fennel: Mildly sweet with a licorice-like flavour, fennel bulb adds fibre, calcium, potassium and vitamins C and K to meals. It also contains a range of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals.
Toss sliced fennel bulb into salads for crunch and flavour or serve as a burger topping. Add chopped fennel to stir-fries, soups and stews or use it as “bed” for roasting chicken or fish on. Serve fennel grilled or roasted along with other vegetables.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.
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