Friday, March 27, 2009

Eats Shoots and Leaves?

This week's post is all about vegetables! Be sure you are eating at least 3-5 servings a day (a serving is about 1/2 cup), and eat a variety of colors in your diet to truly benefit from these little wonders. Nearly all vegetables are low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Did you know that vegetables are classified by what part of the plant they come from? And vegetables come from ALL parts of a plant:

Leaves- That's right folks... love 'em and "leaf" 'em. Lettuces, kale, parsley, spinach, bok choy and brussel sprouts are all examples of plants that have edible leaves.

Stems and shoots- Sometimes, the veggie part of plant is the trunk or stem. Examples include fennel, celery and asparagus. Store these vegetables like flowers (upright, with the bottoms submerged in water) in the fridge and they will last a few days longer.

Bulbs- "Head" below ground to harvest chives, leeks, onions, shallots and garlic. HA!

Roots- Also located underground are the root vegetables-- beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, and jicama. A sweet potato is a root veggie, but a potato is not. Read on...

Tubers - Potatoes, sunchokes/Jerusalam artichokes and ginger root are all known as tubers. What's the difference between a tuber and a root? Well, remove the root of the plant, and it dies. Remove the tuber, and the plant can still live. And, the plant will probably produce a new tuber to replace the one you just oh-so-tastily baked up and ate. Tubers also have the ability to sprout new growth. Leave a carrot in water for a week and it will still be a chunk of carrot. Do the same to a potato, and you'll soon have a houseplant.

Seeds- Back above ground, veggies that are seeds mostly look like, well... seeds. Take an ear of corn, peas, lentils or beans, for example. While these foods are all technically vegetables, take note of portion size when eating. They are the highest in fiber and protein, but also the highest in calories. When planning a menu, I often think of these veggies (and potatoes as well) as more of the "starch" componant.

Fruits- Yes, fruits! By strict botanical definition, a fruit contains the reproductive part of a plant. Many of us know the tomato has been having an identity crisis for years, but did you know avocados, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, eggplants, okra and squash all are fruits too? Like most other people (other than botanists, I guess) RDs still consider these vegetables, and we identify fruits more commonly as the sweeter specimens. So don't worry-- Eat up. These "veggie fruits" don't have the same sugar content as "fruit fruits."

Flowers- The next time your sweetheart brings home broccoli, artichokes or cauliflower, they aren't just bringing you produce... they're getting romantic with flowers! And while few girls dream of walking down the aisle with a big bouquet of vitamin C, you should make these veggies your partners for life. Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, but also cabbage, rutabega and turnips) are thought to have a protective effect against cancer.

Speaking of cancer, please help me reach my goal of raising $1,000 for the American Cancer Society. I am walking in the university's Relay for Life this April. To donate,Click here to visit my personal page.

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Thanks! And happy vegetable eating!