Vegetables are another big topic, probably our most important one nutritionally. Health and vitality are dependent, I believe, on eating nutritious and vital foods, and vegetables are a major category here, especially the fresh-picked variety. Fresh vegetables have life force. The Latin word for vegetables means ?to enliven or animate.?
Most vegetables are very high in water and necessary vitamins and minerals and low in fat and protein. Thus, they are a perfect complement to animal protein meals to help supply the needed nutrients that aid the digestion and utilization of those concentrated foods. Most vegetables are predominantly carbohydrate, with important fiber bulk. Vitamins C and A, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron are the most commonly rich nutrients, along with some B vitamins and other trace minerals. The dark leafy greens, yellow or orange vegetables, such as squash and carrots, and red ones, such as peppers, are all high in beta-carotene, which produces vitamin A in our body. Many of the nutrients may be partially lost when cooking vegetables. Vitamin C and some minerals may dissolve in the water, and the B vitamins may be destroyed by heat and also lost in the water, yet, overall, the basic nutrition and fiber will still remain.
The positive flavors, many colors, and variety of textures of vegetables are a distinct advantage to those who enjoy natural tastes and aesthetic eating. However, the low salt and fat content tends to reduce interest for people who have developed a taste for those attractions. And many times children refrain, often passionately, from the pleasures of vegetables, as their tastes may tend toward sweet flavors and they may oppose the often slightly bitter flavors of the greenery.
The chlorophyll that is part of most plants, especially high in the green vegetables, has special properties. It is the basic component of the plants? blood, just as hemoglobin is in ours. Instead of iron as the focal part, as it is with our blood, magnesium is the center of the chlorophyll molecule, and thus many plants have a good magnesium level. Chlorophyll is produced as a result of the sun?s effects on the plants, and it is known to have revitalizing and refreshing effects when used in humans. Many studies have been done with chlorophyll extracts. It seems to provide intestinal nourishment and has a soothing or healing effect on the mucous linings, and it also has been used beneficially for skin ulcers and to help detoxify or purify our system, the liver in particular. Chlorophyll may even have antimutagenic potential, though this needs further study. Because of their beta-carotene and selenium levels, vegetables are thought to help reduce cancer rates. The cruciferous family vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, have a further anticancer effect, though the exact mechanism has not yet been determined.
The most nutritious way to eat vegetables is fresh and raw. But raw vegetables eaten in too much quantity are harder for some people to chew and digest and can produce intestinal gas. Light steaming of vegetables softens them without depleting much of their nutrients, and hot vegetables with a little seasoning may be more pleasing to the palate. Baked vegetables are also sound nutritionally. If we boil vegetables, many of the nutrients go into the water, so unless we plan to consume the water, by drinking it or making it into a sauce or soup, boiling is not ideal. Frozen vegetables, when they are frozen fresh, have not suffered much loss of nutrients and may keep for quite a long time, remaining nutritionally rich. Dried vegetables do tend to lose vitamins and minerals, and canned vegetables often lose the most, but this can vary depending on the additives canned with them. With water canning, many of the nutrients often dissolve into the liquid out of the vegetables. You can conserve water and gain nutrients by using left-over vegetable water for soup bases, gravies, or watering plants.
Many vegetables are sprayed or absorb some chemicals from the ground, water, or air. These are often most concentrated in the skin or on the surface. Washing or soaking the vegetables in water may help remove some of these chemicals. Many people even soak vegetables suspected to be contaminated in diluted bleach (Chlorox, sodium hypochlorite), then rinse them before preparing them for eating.
Fresh vegetable juices can be a very invigorating beverage. Their vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the juices. Many people have fasted on vegetable juices with positive effects, such as enhanced vitality and a diminishment of congestive-type symptoms. Vegetable juices are better the fresher they are. Carrot juice is probably the most common, though other veggies, such as beets, celery, or spinach, can be added for a mixed-vegetable cocktail. Really, almost any vegetable can be made into juice.
The leafy greens are probably the richest in nutrients of any foods in the vegetable kingdom. And usually the greener they are, the more nutritious they are. They are very high in vitamins A and C and the minerals magnesium, potassium, and iron. The leafy greens are well known for their folic acid (name derived from ?foliage?) content. Calcium is also very high in the greens, though some of it gets bound up in certain ones, such as chard, spinach, and beet greens, that are high in oxalic acid. During cooking or in the intestines, calcium oxalate, which is not very soluble or absorbable, is formed. But an appreciable amount of calcium can still be obtained from the green leafy vegetables. Kale, collards, and mustard and turnip greens have a lower oxalic acid level and, thus, more available calcium. Dandelion greens are one of the richest sources of vitamin A.
To give an example of the rich nutrition of the leafy green vegetables, let?s analyze a cup of cooked kale, which is a fairly large portion, requiring two to three cups of fresh kale. This has just over 50 calories, nearly 10 grams of carbohydrate, several grams of protein, 2?3 grams of fiber, and hardly any fat, less than 1 gram. The vitamin A activity is nearly 8,000 IUs, more than the RDA for A. Calcium content is between 150 and 200 mg., magnesium about 30 mg., iron 2 mg., potassium nearly 300 mg., and vitamin C 100?150 mg., and there are traces of manganese, copper, and zinc. Sodium is fairly low, less than 50 mg. There are also trace amounts of most of the amino acids. The vitamin B levels are fairly low except for important folic acid, about 40 mcg.
There are many edible leafy green vegetables. I give a few notes on some of the more common ones.
A nutritious anticancer cruciferous vegetable, cabbage is low in fat and may even help reduce body fat levels. Though not as high in nutrients as some of the other greens, cabbage is still rich in chlorophyll, folic acid, and vitamin C and especially good in that it contains some selenium, another known antioxidant/anticancer nutrient, and two detoxifying minerals, sulfur and chlorine. Red cabbage is higher than green in vitamins A and C, but lower in folic acid and chlorophyll. In longevity cultures, such as the Hunzas, cabbage is popular in the diets in both raw and cooked forms and as fermented sauerkraut (mostly in eastern Europe), which adds digestive enzymes.
Chard, mainly the Swiss variety, is a rich source of vitamin A; one cup of uncooked chard has about 1,200 IUs?and less than 10 calories. Chard is also about one-third protein and a good fiber food. It is fair in vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Hot cooked chard served with a bit of melted butter or cold-pressed vegetable oil and a pinch of salt is a delicious vegetable.
Common to the Southern diet, these greens are one of the richer sources of vitamin A, with some protein and a good fiber content. Folic acid and vitamin C are also strong. The minerals calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc are plentiful?that?s, of course, if you are eating those collard greens.
Kale, just described in the general discussion of leafy greens, is a fairly tasty vegetable with a special and rich array of nutrients, and especially a good source of calcium.
This is the common name for a number of related plants that grow in ?heads.? Head lettuce has been classically identified with the iceberg variety, which is a solid, round ball of lettuce leaves that stores longer than most other types, so that many restaurants and homes prefer it. Iceberg lettuce, though, tends to be less nutritious than some of the other lettuces, such as romaine, red leaf, green leaf, or butter lettuce, which are gaining in popularity. These are generally darker green in color and richer in chlorophyll, vitamin A, and folic acid. Lettuces also contain some calcium, potassium, and iron and are good fiber foods. They are low in sodium and calories as well.
?Spinach makes ya strong!? That has been the Popeye tale for most of us, and that?s because this dark leafy green food is rich in iron. One cup of uncooked spinach has nearly 2 mg. of iron?and for only 15 calories. It is also a good fiber food and has some protein. Vitamin A activity is very high, about 4,500 IUs for that one cup. B vitamins are low except for folic acid; vitamin C is good, and there is some vitamin E as well. Potassium, magnesium, and calcium are high, and copper, manganese, and zinc are also present. Raw spinach, however, contains oxalic acid, which may bind some of the calcium and other minerals. Spinach is a good substitute for lettuce in salads, and lightly cooked spinach is concentrated in nutrients. However, once fresh spinach is cooked or a can is opened it should be consumed within the Day and not stored, especially in contact to a metal container, due to potential oxidation of iron.
A special, spicy green from the mustard family, watercress is a nice addition to salads. It grows by or in streambeds in the early spring. Watercress is particularly high in vitamin A and calcium and also contains vitamin C, potassium, iron, magnesium, and traces of nearly all the B vitamins. Many herbalists claim that watercress is a good blood purifier.
The stem category is basically what is left after the roots, leaves, and flowers. Leeks are probably more similar to the bulb or root group, while asparagus is in a world of its own. Most of these plants are low in calories and very good in fiber content.
This is one of our spring vegetables, and the edible part is actually the young underground sprouts or shoots. The asparagus tips are actually little flowers. Asparagus spears are often more expensive than other vegetables, because of their short season and the work it takes to harvest them. Asparagus has very good amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A, sulfur, folic acid, and potassium. It has some iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and zinc as well. As an early sprout, it is relatively high in protein for a vegetable, and it is a good fiber food. Asparagus is also low in calories and sodium. The unusual smell that our urine may acquire after eating asparagus comes from the amino acid, asparagine, which actually acquired its name from this springtime plant.
A popular crunchy stem often used for oral gratification during weight-loss programs, celery is very low in calories (fewer than ten per stalk), though higher in sodium than other veggies. Celery is a good fiber and carbohydrate food with a high water content. It is also rich in potassium, with some calcium and folic acid, and celery is relatively high in vitamins A and C. This vegetable is thought to have a relaxing effect by calming the nerves.
Leeks are a nutrient-rich, high-fiber food that are related to green onions. They are mainly carbohydrate and fiber, though they are rich in potassium, folic acid, iron, and calcium and fairly high in vitamin C, some Bs, silicon, sulfur, magnesium, and phosphorus. They can be steamed or sauteed with other vegetables or used in soup.
This is an interesting plant that comes from Tibet. The only edible part is the stem, which is actually an early sprout of the rhizome (large bulb) of the plant. The leaves are poisonous, and the stems, when eaten raw, may be toxic as well. When the stems are cooked or stewed, they can be eaten in a pie or sauce, usually with some sweetener to cover up the bitter taste. Rhubarb is a good fiber food and has some calcium and other minerals. Most of the vitamin C is lost with cooking.
The root vegetables, which also include the tubers (potatoes) and bulbs (garlic and onions), are probably the most commonly consumed group of vegetables throughout the world. One of these root vegetables might be cooked along with the main meal or as a dish in itself, as part of a mixed vegetable dish, or as a seasoning for other dishes. Potatoes, carrots, and garlic and onions are the most popular. These vegetables vary in their nutrient content, though they all are ?starchy?; that is, contain a high portion of complex carbohydrates. Carrots and sweet potatoes are both very high in beta-carotene, which generates vitamin A. Cooking potatoes are high in vitamin C and lots of other nutrients. Most of these root vegetables, especially yams, are rich in potassium.
Beets are those red-purple roots that stain the other vegetables red when cooked with them. Some people can have a scare after eating beets when they pass bloody-looking stools or see red water in the toilet after elimination. In fact, beets can be used to measure our intestinal transit time. Eat a couple of fresh raw beets, usually shredded in a salad, check the time, and watch when the first sign of them appears in the bowel movement. Canned beets will not work for this purpose, as much of the red pigment (and a lot of the nutrients as well) is lost in canning and storage.
Beet greens are particularly high in vitamin A, iron, and calcium, while beet roots are richest in iron, potassium, niacin, copper, and vitamin C. Folic acid, zinc, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus are also present. Beet borscht is a classic Russian beet soup, but steamed, raw in salads, or cooked beets in soups are also simple ways to get these stimulating roots. A mixed carrot, beet, and parsley juice is supportive for women during their menstrual cycle.
Carrots are one of the more commonly eaten vegetables. Children will often eat raw carrots when they will eat few others, but cooked carrots are another story. Carrots are amazing in their vitamin A content. One cup of carrots, with only 50 calories, contains over 20,000 IUs of vitamin A, mainly as beta-carotene. Folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium are also present. And carrots usually contain selenium, a hard-to-find important nutrient. Of course, the freshness and quality of a vegetable such as carrots determines its content. For example, carrots may range widely in their vitamin A value.
Carrots are most often eaten cleaned and raw, cooked in vegetable dishes (steamed is best for nutrition), or as part of soups or salads. Sliced, diced, shredded, or swirled, they all contain lots of vitamin A. An eight-ounce glass of carrot juice contains almost five times (25,000 IUs) the RDA for vitamin A and various concentrated minerals; it has the most nourishment when it is drunk within a short time of preparing it. With this vitamin A content, carrots and carrot juice are helpful in supporting skin health and providing immune protection.
A whole book could be devoted to all the tales and remedies of which garlic has been a part for centuries. Its strong odor, from sulfur gas, accounts for the theory that garlic keeps away evil spirits?or any spirits, for that matter, other than other garlic-eating ones. But it is with good reason that garlic has been known as the ?king of herbs?; it has been used for medicinal purposes including treatment of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, worms and other parasites, the common cold and flu, and generally as the ?poor person?s antibiotic.? It seems to help purify the body and may have immune-enhancing properties. The mineral sulfur promotes elimination of toxins from the blood, lymph, and body. Garlic has been shown to help lower fat levels and platelet aggregation, which can lower blood-clotting potential.
Garlic is actually a bulb made up of cloves, each of which is the seed for a future plant. In the low amounts usually used, it is not of high nutritional value. It is used raw in salads or in dressings or cooked with meats, fish, or poultry or with other vegetables. The hot or spicy nature of garlic gives it a stimulating action.
The effect of onions is similar to, though more subtle, than those of garlic. There are many varieties of these root bulbs. The standard yellow cooking onion is most common in our culture, though red onions, white onions, green onions, and chives are used frequently also. Onions can be eaten raw in salads or in dips, used as flavorings, or cooked in soups or in just about any kind of food dish. Liver and onions is a fairly popular (and unpopular) high-nutrient entree. Onion is a universal food and, like garlic, has a characteristic odor from the active sulfur bonds that release its purifying properties. Onions? antiseptic effects also come from its natural oils.
Onions are not high in nutrients, though they have a wide mix. They have some plant protein, calcium, iron, folic acid, and vitamins C, E, and A and are also a source of selenium and zinc, which they can pick up from the soil. Green onions are higher in vitamins A and C and iron and are used most often fresh as chives in salads or with potatoes and sour cream.
Probably the most universal and highly consumed vegetable, potatoes are actually a tuber, like Jerusalem artichokes or taro root, meaning that they grow underground off the root after the plant has grown and flowered. I try to find organic, nongreen potatoes especially, as they can concentrate chemicals and produce their own toxicity when they turn color or are exposed to sunlight. The green color is actually chlorophyll, but it suggests that excessive solanine has been produced in the potato. Solanine can produce symptoms such as headache, nausea, diarrhea, or fatigue in large amounts. Potatoes that have sprouted should also be avoided.
Potatoes are very rich in nutrients, are low in sodium, fairly low in calories (one potato has between 100 and 150 calories), and negligible in fats. Potatoes are approximately two-thirds starch carbohydrate and about 10 percent protein. They contain a reasonable portion of vitamin C and B vitamins, especially folic acid, thiamine, niacin, and pantothenic acid, and are very high in potassium, with moderate amounts of magnesium, manganese, iron, and zinc.
Potatoes are very versatile in the kitchen as well. They can be baked, steamed, boiled, fried, cooked in soups or vegetable dishes, and more. They get costar billing in the standard poorly balanced meat-and-potatoes diet, but they are the least of any dietary problem, unless the diet is high in french fries or the potatoes are slathered in butter, sour cream, or highly chemical bacon bits. The basic potato, though, is really that?a basic nutritious food from the earth. Boiled potatoes can calm the intestines and reduce bloating. Externally, raw potato can draw out skin boils as well as reduce inflammation. Sliced raw potatoes on sunburns or other mild burns may help their healing.
Parsnips, Rutabagas, and Turnips.
These three root vegetables are among our stranger and less consumed foods, unless they are passed on in a cultural diet.
They are mainly starchy vegetables, without a high amount of any one nutrient but a good mixture. They have some B vitamins, A, and C and are high in potassium, with a blend of other minerals. They are almost exclusively eaten cooked?steamed, baked, or in soups. Turnip greens are rich in vitamins A and C and folic acid.
Those spicy, crunchy little red roots that grow very fast are really low calorie. They are nearly all water, with some vitamin C, folic acid, and most of the trace minerals, including iron, zinc, silicon, and selenium. The chlorine content may actually help in digestion. The spicier radishes can help clear the sinuses and any mucus in the upper airways. Wild radish flowers are also edible and can help spice up a salad. Radish sprouts make a good blend with the common alfalfa sprouts and are nice for those who like a little bite in their salads.
Sweet Potatoes and Yams. These two potato-related tubers are considered the celebration potatoes in our culture. Usually baked or steamed, they are a real taste treat. Sweet potato pie and candied yams are special holiDay favorites. Sweet potatoes are very high in beta-carotene and fairly good in the B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, and iron. Yams are very rich in potassium, folic acid, and magnesium but lower in vitamin A and some of the other nutrients.
This group is different from both the flowers and the ?flowering vegetables,? such as tomatoes and squashes, that grow to replace the flower of the plant. Vegetable flowers are actually the early part of the potential flower of the plant, picked and eaten before they progress into a ?real? flower.
These vegetables tend to be low in calories and high in carbohydrates but also have some protein and good fiber content. They are all good in vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium, and broccoli is very rich in vitamin A. Artichokes are actually the flower of a thistle plant that is very beautiful when left to fully flower, while cauliflower and broccoli are members of the highly nutritious cruciferous family, thought to help reduce the incidence of cancer.
These are a special treat and a meditation to eat, unless we gobble or add to our salad the oil-marinated artichoke hearts. Eating the fresh, steamed artichoke involves trimming the stickers and then peeling the tender leaves one by one to slide the edible parts through our teeth into our mouths; and then, we eventually get down to the hairy heart, which, after a shave, is a real delicacy. The whole experience can take half an hour or more, not counting steaming the artichoke for that long at least to make it tender and edible. Artichokes are good in fiber, low in calories (if not drenched in butter or mayonnaise), and pretty well endowed with folic acid and potassium. Some vitamin A and C, calcium and magnesium, phosphorus, and iron are part of the artichoke.
Sometimes eaten by children because they look like such cute little green trees, broccoli is also nutritious and very low in calories. The protein content is about one-third of its nourishment. Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that is thought to have anticancer properties and is rich in vitamins A, C, and folic acid. Some other B vitamins and most of the minerals are also present, being particularly best in potassium, along with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Broccoli should be eaten raw or lightly steamed, not boiled or overcooked, to maintain its nourishment.
These are one of the cruciferous vegetables recently known for their ability to reduce cancer potential. Even though they are not many people?s favorite vegetable because of their peculiar taste (sulfur) and the fact that they seem to be gas producing, they are definitely loaded with nutrition. They were always fascinating to me in the way they grow and by their miniature replication of cabbage.
Brussels sprouts are high in vitamins A and C, folic acid, and fiber and fairly high in calcium, sulfur, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and iron. These little sprouts from Brussels are nearly half protein, though not completely balanced in their amino acid distribution. If we can get children to eat Brussels sprouts, that is a real victory on several levels.
A cauliflower is really a little head of thousands of compact flowers. It is white because it contains no carotene pigment, and is thus low in vitamin A, but it is rich in potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C. It is also about 25 percent protein and one of the cancer-preventive* cruciferous vegetables. Cauliflower can be eaten raw with dips and steamed or cooked with other vegetables. Curried in eastern Indian cooking is a very tasty way to eat cauliflower.
These plants are many, mainly growing on small bushes and vines. Each one that I will discuss here has many different varieties. The flowering vegetables are botanically like fruits in that they carry the plant?s matured seeds for the next generation. These vegetables grow after and in replacement of the flowers, much like a citrus tree. And some, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, are as juicy and nutritious as many fruits.
Tomatoes are the very popular ?fruit of the vine? that were once thought to be poisonous. There was also a question as to whether they were a fruit or a vegetable until the United States Supreme Court ruled that they are vegetables. Actually, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are all members of the nightshade family of plants, which are thought to be possible joint irritants in arthritis. Potatoes and tobacco are also in the nightshade family.
Squashes are multiple and vary from small, soft, high water content zucchini and summer squash to hard, starchy drier ones, such as acorn and hubbard squash. Even the pumpkin is in the squash family. Many beans, especially green peas and green beans, are also flowering vegetables, though these will be discussed in the section of legumes.
The ?coolest? of vegetables, cucumbers are actually used medicinally for burns or irritated tissues. Laying a slice of cucumber over each eye is a soothing treatment for stressed or inflamed eyes, or for hot or burned skin. Cucumbers are eaten in their unripe state and usually raw, though some cultures cook them. The smaller cucumbers may be ?pickled? to make a fermented vinegary fruit, namely ?pickles.? Some people find cucumbers difficult to digest, in particular the skins, though they contain the cuke?s folic acid. Cucumbers are not really high in any nutrients, but they are almost devoid of calories as well. They are, however, the best source of vitamin E (in the seeds) of the vegetables. Cucumbers also have some vitamins A and C, and contain potassium and other minerals as well. Cucumbers are commonly eaten raw in salads, as in cukes and sour cream, or as pickles.
Our main purple vegetable besides red cabbage, eggplant is usually eaten cooked. It is low in calories unless sauteed in oils; we must be careful with eggplant because it is like a sponge and can soak up large amounts of fats. Therefore, it is best to bake it first before cooking it in other recipes. Eggplant is used in many dishes throughout the world?in a Middle Eastern dip, in mixed cooked vegetables, and as eggplant parmigiana, something like noodleless lasagna or moussaka, a Greek eggplant casserole. Eggplants are mainly carbohydrate and contain no fat. They are not particularly high in nutrients, except for niacin and potassium. Calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A and C, and folic acid are also present. Eggplant is also a member of the nightshade family, and thus may be avoided by people with concern about arthritis.
Peppers are also grown and eaten throughout the world in a great many varieties, shapes, and flavors, from sweet to very hot. We are most familiar with red or green ?bell? peppers and the hotter chili, cayenne, and jalapeño peppers. The bell peppers may be eaten fresh in salads or sliced with dips or stuffed with other foods, such as grains or meats, and baked. Some people have difficulty digesting peppers, especially the pepper?s skin. The hot peppers are used to spice up salsas, cheeses, and in many other dishes of South America, where they originated. The chilis and cayenne peppers contain capsaicin, with medicinal properties in cleansing the blood and stimulating the circulation and perhaps in reducing cardiovascular disease and cancer. They also stimulate the gastric secretions and help digestion.
All peppers are very high in vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and vitamin A. One sweet pepper might have over 500 IUs of A and nearly 150 mg. of vitamin C. A smaller hot chili pepper is more concentrated and so may have similar levels. Folic acid, potassium, and niacin are also present in fairly good levels, as are some other minerals and B vitamins. The seeds surround the inner core of the peppers and often concentrate the hot nature.
Another festive vegetable, pumpkins are used decoratively for Halloween and cooked for the tasty pumpkin pie dessert, eaten mainly around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pumpkin seeds are also fairly popular. Some people eat baked pumpkin as they do other hard squashes, though it is more stringy, yet very high in fiber. Pumpkins are also high in vitamin A, as beta-carotene, the natural orange coloring. They are mainly a starchy carbohydrate with good water content. Pumpkins have some vitamin C, niacin, and pantothenic acid and are high in potassium. Other prevalent minerals include phosphorus, silicon, iron, magnesium, and calcium. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc and other minerals (see the section on
These are also mainly autumn harvest vegetables. Many need to be cooked by baking or steaming, though the popular zucchini and yellow crookneck (both summer vegetables) can be sliced and eaten raw in salads or with dips. Most of the squashes are high in carbohydrates, mainly as starch, with a high fiber content. Many are high in vitamin A, especially the orange or yellow squashes. Vitamin C and potassium are also present in varying amounts, as are calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Zucchinis are probably the most commonly used squash in our culture because they are so easy to prepare. They are very juicy and flavorful after light steaming. The bigger ones can be stuffed and baked. Zucchinis can also be used raw in salads or for dips, or in soups or dipped in egg and breaded for deep frying. This vegetable seems to have a mild diuretic action and stimulates the intestines as well, probably because of its mucilage content.
The vegetable mainstay of many Americans? diets and the diets of many cultures around the world, tomatoes have a wide variety of uses?juices, soups, raw in salads, stuffed, in sauces, in catsups and condiments, in salad dressings, in pizza and so many more. In 1980, it was estimated that nearly sixty pounds of tomatoes per person were consumed in the Unites States, though most of this was probably in catsup and sauces. The tomato, which is related to the belladona plant, was thought to be poisonous until one brave soul ate one in public and didn?t die. Whether tomatoes are a fruit or vegetable doesn?t really matter; they are a very delicious, mildly acidic food. The skins of the tomato are difficult to digest, and some people can suffer allergic reactions or irritation from too much tomato intake. Also, as a nightshade plant, they appear to be a joint irritant in some people with arthritis. Whether this is from allergy, acidity, or some other factor we do not know.
Tomatoes are not highly nutritious, though they are pretty well spiked with potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. They are low in calories and are mostly liquid and carbohydrate. Whole tomatoes contain some vitamin E, folic acid and other B vitamins, such as biotin and niacin, and a bit of iron, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Tomato juice and tomato paste are more concentrated in some of the nutrients. Fresh-picked is the best and tastiest way to eat those red, ripe jewels of the garden.
The vegetables that come from the sea are some of the most nutrient-rich foods we have, particularly in iodine, calcium, potassium, and iron, and some being very high in protein as well. Since these plants are constantly bathed in the mineral-rich ocean waters, they have a regular supply of nutrients. Sodium, however, can also be concentrated in these saltwater vegetables that supply food for many fishes.
Most seaweeds contain algin, a fiber molecule that binds minerals. When taken into our body, it can attract various metals within our digestive tract, possibly including heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and take them out of our system. It is further wise to include sea vegetables in our diets more regularly to provide good mineral nutrition and reduce possible absorption and utilization of similar radioactive compounds, such as iodine 131, from environmental or medical sources.
The seaweeds are becoming more commonly used in our culture. They have been a traditional food in the Japanese culture for centuries. Sushi are rolls of rice (often with fish or vegetables) wrapped in a piece of nori seaweed. Kelp is a good high-mineral salt substitute, relatively low in sodium compared to regular salt, and may be useful for those with hypertension.
Agar-agar is a seaweed combination that is used as a gelling agent in cooking and for desserts. It has no taste and no fishy smell and is healthier than gelatin made from animal byproducts. Agar is probably a good place to begin for children or people who want to bring these sea vegetables into their diet.
Arame. This is a dark, thin seaweed thread that can be used in soups or salads or mixed with rice. It is fairly rich in protein, iodine, calcium, and iron and is one of the tastier seaweeds.
A red-purple leaf that is rich in iodine, iron, and calcium, dulse is a very tasty seaweed that can be used fresh in salads or cooked in soups. It is helpful to rinse the dulse prior to use to wash away some of the salt and the more fishy ocean flavor. Dulse powder, like kelp, is also available as a seasoning.
This is a very mineral-rich, high-fiber seaweed. Its dark, long strands look like thick hairs. Hijiki is about 10?20 percent protein, contains some vitamin A, and is richest in calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Soaked in water, it can be cooked in soup or is very good combined and eaten with rice. It is similar to arame.
Kelp is usually used in smaller quantities than the other seaweeds, mostly as a seasoning. It has some protein and is very rich in iodine, calcium, and potassium, along with some of the B vitamins. Kelp is a common food supplement, used mainly for its iodine.
A richer, meatier, higher-protein seaweed, kombu is most often used in soups?it adds minerals and flavor to the stock. Kombu contains vitamin A, some Bs, and lots of calcium and iron, yet is higher in sodium than most of the other seaweeds. One strip of kombu can also be added to the pot when cooking beans to reduce some of the potential gas-inducing qualities of the beans.
Nori is probably one of the most commonly used seaweeds. The dark sheets, as it is usually available, are very rich in protein, containing nearly 50 percent. Nori is high in fiber as well, and the sheets are used to wrap and hold rice, vegetables, and raw or cooked fish in small rolls that can be eaten with the hands. Nori is very high in vitamin A, calcium, iodine, iron, and phosphorus, and it has one of the sweeter flavors of the seaweeds.
Another high-protein, flat and thinner seaweed, wakame is used mainly in soups. It contains some vitamin A, lots of calcium, iron, and sodium, and a bit of vitamin C as well.
Mushrooms, a type of edible fungus, are a fascinating species. Interestingly, when they are eaten, almost the entire plant is consumed. There are literally thousands of varieties, though probably only about twenty-five are consumed by humans. Most mushrooms are poisonous in varying degrees, with effects ranging from digestive upset to paralysis and death. It is very important, especially with wild mushrooms, to know the species that are edible and not make any mistakes. I remember a beautiful post?rain walk with herbalist Rob Menzies where we discovered nearly one hundred species of mushrooms.
White button, or field, mushrooms are found in most grocery stores and are the most commonly consumed. They may be the only variety known to most consumers, yet they have very little nutrition. Japanese shiitake mushrooms, boletus mushrooms, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, and the tiny tree mushrooms are some other fairly common, more nutritious mushroom delicacies.
Most mushrooms have a fairly good protein content. I often describe them as the ?meat? of the vegetable kingdom, especially some of those exotic forms found in Oriental cooking. The average button mushroom is low in calories and about one-third protein, while other varieties may have even more protein. Shiitake mushrooms are noted to have all eight essential amino acids, and are very nutritious. Many mushrooms are also high in two other, harder-to-find vegetable nutrients, iron and selenium. The B vitamins biotin, niacin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid are often found in good quantities. Potassium and phosphorus are usually the next most highly concentrated minerals, though other minerals are present in varying amounts, depending on the soil content.
Some people are allergic or sensitive to mushrooms. Also, people with intestinal yeast overgrowth, yeast sensitivities, or mold allergies may have crossover reactions to the fungi family.
Peas and Beans
The legume vegetables are a special class of the pea and bean plants, which contain edible seeds inside pods that grow after the plant flowers. These include aduki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, great northerns, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, peanuts, green peas, pinto beans, and soybeans. There are also many other types of peas and beans. In fact, peanuts are actually a legume vegetable and not a true nut; however, since they are so commonly thought of as nuts, they will be discussed in the nut section.
The legumes are an interesting food, mainly a mixture of protein and starch, with many positive qualities as a food. They are low in calories, low in fat, a good complex carbohydrate, and fairly high in fiber, which may help intestinal action and even help to reduce cholesterol levels. Most important, though, especially for the vegetarian, the legumes are a good and inexpensive protein source. They cost on the average about 3 per pound of protein, whereas egg protein may cost about 6 and meat protein more like 12 per pound. And the extra advantage is that the beans have less than 10 percent fat content. So, though beans may be considered the poor people?s meat, they might better be known as the healthy people?s meat.
One concern, however, is that the protein in most of the peas and beans is not as complete as the animal proteins (though what protein is present is well utilized). In other words, all the essential amino acids are not contained in near-equal amounts. Tryptophan and methionine are the two amino acids most commonly low in the vegetable proteins. So we must eat more of these vegetable protein foods or mix them with different vegetable protein foods, such as grains (which are commonly higher than legumes in methionine but lower in lysine) to get all our essential amino acids at more optimum levels. This mixing of protein foods, called ?protein complementarity,? is discussed more in Chapter 2,
, and in Chapter 9 under
. Soybeans and peanuts are the most complete proteins of the legumes and of the vegetable kingdom, for that matter.
Another concern with legumes, especially beans, is that in many people they cause increased intestinal gas, which leads to burping, flatulence, or abdominal discomfort. This is caused mainly by the oligosaccharides in the beans fermenting in the lower intestines. Since these starch-type molecules are contained primarily in the coverings of the beans, we can soak the beans in water, usually overnight, and then discard that water first before cooking them in fresh water to help leach out some of their fermenting properties. This definitely reduces the gas-producing potential for which beans are notorious. Also, combining a bean such as mung, aduki, lentil or black bean with a grain such as rice or millet in a 1:3 (bean to grain) ratio will provide low gas but good fuel as a complete protein.
For this discussion, I have divided the legumes into three main categories: the
, and the
. In terms of nutrient content, the fresh peas and beans are more like the basic green vegetables, and the dried beans are more similar to the grains as starchier, protein-containing foods higher in B vitamins. The fresh beans, for example, include basic ?green? beans and their many varieties, lima beans (also available dried), and yellow wax beans. These beans are usually higher in vitamins A and C than the dried varieties. Green beans are also usually good in folic acid and limas in potassium and iron, while yellow wax beans are lower in the supportive nutrients, though they have some vitamin A. These fresh beans are usually eaten steamed or cooked by themselves or with other vegetables.
include the standard green peas, as well as sweet, snap, snow, and sugar peas. When picked young, the whole pod and baby peas can be eaten fresh in salads or right off the bush, or they may be cooked. When more mature, the peas are bigger and the pods are stringier and less easy to chew and digest. This group is the highest in vitamin C of all the legumes, fairly high in the B vitamins, with some folic acid, high in vitamin A, and fairly well endowed with most of the minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Green peas even contain some vitamin E.
The dried beans are the category in which most of the legumes fall. There are many varieties, and their use tends to vary amongst the cultures. Lentils, often eaten with wheat or peas for complete protein, are very common in Middle Eastern diets, as are garbanzo beans, also known as chick peas. Hummus and falafel are two Middle Eastern foods based on this bean. Pintos and black beans, usually eaten with rice or corn, are more common in Latin American countries. Kidney, navy, and great northern beans seem more Western?type beans?though most of the world?s beans are consumed in the United States. Flavorful ?baked beans? commonly use the red kidney bean. Soybeans have classically come from the Oriental cultures as tofu, or soybean curd, but in the last 20 years, soybean use has expanded rapidly worldwide.
Most of these dried and cooked beans contain some basic B vitamins, though the content is not really high. In general, the levels of thiamine, niacin, and pantothenic acid are best. There is a surprisingly high level of iron in most of these beans; calcium, potassium, and phosphorus are also abundant. Black beans, for example, are high in iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus; garbanzos are rich in those same minerals and good in vitamins B1, B2, and B3; kidney beans are good in iron and potassium, as are navy beans and lentils; while soybeans are one of the better protein sources, though they are a little less well endowed with the supportive vitamins and minerals, so eating them with more vegetables will help provide those nutrients. Soybeans do contain some A and C and some niacin and are actually fairly high in iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
are a very important food. They are very versatile as well and could supply much of the world?s hungry population with better protein and improved general nutrition. Growing soybeans for direct human consumption is a much more productive use of the land than raising meat. Raising soybeans can provide nearly 20 times the protein per acre that raising beef can. They contain complete protein as well, though not as concentrated as in beef. The amino acid balance of the soybeans is not perfect, being a little low in tryptophan and methionine, but a good intake of soybeans and soybean products can supply us with a fair amount of protein. Soybeans also contain very little if any saturated fat; most of their fat is the unsaturated variety. Soybean oil, commonly used, is high in linoleic acid and polyunsaturated fats and is more stable to oxidation and rancidification than some other oils because of its high content of lecithin and vitamin E, an important antioxidant.
Other soybean products that have hit the American scene in recent years include tempeh, or fermented soybean cakes, and soyburgers made from straight soybeans, tempeh, or tofu. Tofu is the classic soybean product made by fermenting the soybean and concentrating the curd, now used by many cultures. It has become known as the ?food of 10,000 flavors? because it picks up the flavors from the other foods cooked with it. Tofu is a very versatile food. It can be used in salads, blended into dressings, eaten in sandwiches, or added to stir-fries or cooked vegetables. Tofu is not as high in protein and other nutrients as the whole soybean, though it retains fairly good levels of calcium, iron, and phosphorus. The sodium level is usually higher, though. Tofutti, or soybean-based ice cream, has also become popular as a low-cholesterol, lower-fat dessert treat. Ice Bean, another soybean dessert, contains more soybean and less sweetener than the Tofutti.
Sprouts will be discussed next, but I shall just mention here that soybean sprouts, as any of the legume sprouts, are very nutritious, vital foods. The vitamin C content, chlorophyll level, and protein level are all fairly good. The general protein concentration may go down when soybeans are sprouted, but protein is still found in good quantity, and the fiber content goes up. Anybody, anywhere can make and use these important sprouts as a healthful adjunct to their diet.
Overall, the legumes are a very important class of foods. They are especially important to the American diet, where we need to find lower-fat, lower-sodium, and lower-calorie (and lower cost) protein foods to substitute in the diets that are currently too high in meat, sodium, and fat and contribute so much to disease. The legumes are one of the best substitutes we have.
Aduki, alfalfa, buckwheat, clover, fenugreek, garbanzo, lentil, mung, radish, soybean, sunflower, wheat?these are only some of the protein- and vitamin-rich sprouts of many possible seeds, grains, and beans. Barley, corn, oats, green peas, and lima beans are a few others. Really, any ?seed? that is endowed with the potential for the next generation of the plant life is sproutable. When a seed is sprouted into the first beginnings of the new plant, much of the stored nutrient potential bursts forth into the seedling, and these little sprouts, including the seed, grain, or bean with its shoot and greenery, become very wealthy with nutrients. Protein content increases by somewhere between 15 and 30 percent, depending on the plant, as the carbohydrate food source gets converted. Chlorophyll and fiber content also increase. The chlorophyll content can be very high when the sprout becomes green, as in sprouted wheat berries (wheat grass). Chlorophyll itself is rich in nutrients and has many health-giving properties. Also, sprouts are living foods that contain active enzymes which help our digestion and assimilation. With sprouting, most of the B vitamins are greatly increased, some over tenfold. Niacin and riboflavin are in particularly good amounts. The vitamin C level is greatly enhanced in sprouts compared to the dry seeds. Beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor, increases with sprouting, as do vitamin E, K, calcium, phosphorus, and iron, though mineral content is not as greatly affected as that of the vitamins.
Many sprouts can now be purchased in grocery stores. Alfalfa sprouts, by far the most common, are used in salads or sandwiches. They are very tasty but should be eaten fresh so that they do not ferment. Clover sprouts are bigger and have a fuller flavor than alfalfa; they are now more available in stores and can also be used fresh in salads or sandwiches. Mung bean sprouts have been used since ancient China, and are still popular in Oriental cooking. Mixed bean sprouts, with lentils, peas, and garbanzo beans, for example, are now more commonly available in little plastic bags. These can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in vegetable, grain, or even meat dishes or in soups. More and more people are coming to realize that the nutrient value and economical price of sprouts make them an ideal food.
Sprouting at home is very simple with a large glass jar or flat tray filled with soil. Most seeds, grains, or beans can be placed in a jar, rinsed, then covered with water for approximately 24 hours, being rinsed once or twice, then kept in the jar out of direct sunlight and rinsed two or three times a Day , pouring off the water and letting the moist sprouts sit. I suggest using purified, chlorine-free water for soaking and rinsing sprouts. When they have sprouted, they can be placed in more light over the next Day or two, again being rinsed two or three times daily to keep them clean and fresh. By this time, the amount of sprouts will have increased several times over the original volume. The sprouts and/or greenery are usually edible after a Day or two in the light. Many types of sprouts, such as lentils, garbanzos, or alfalfa, can be eaten earlier than this and are very tasty along with being at peak protein levels at this time, Day two or three.
Sunflower, wheat berry, and buckwheat sprouts all tend to grow better and healthier in a bed of soil. They are placed on top of the soil, watered well, covered with dark plastic or cloth, and left in a dark place for two to three Day s. Then they are uncovered and placed in the light, being watered or sprayed as needed. The tall shoots with green tops can be trimmed and eaten fresh in salads, or they may continue to grow even further.
Lentils and garbanzos are very easy to sprout, may take only a couple of Day s, and are very rich in protein. Sprouted mung beans, the common ?bean sprouts? used in Oriental cooking, can be used in salads or cooked into vegetable dishes. Fenugreek sprouts have a licorice flavor, while radish sprouts are more spicy. Soybean sprouting takes a little more care, as they must be rinsed more often to prevent fermentation.
Some practitioners feel that sprouts as the basic part of our diet can be very healthy and can, in fact, help heal a lot of medical problems. When the Hippocrates Health Institutes or the Optimum Health Institutes take people in for health care, they feed them mainly sprouts of various kinds, raw foods, and juices. These centers have been inspired by the work of Dr. Ann Wigmore, a well-known naturopathic doctor. Author Viktoras Kulvinskas, best known for his book
Survival into the Twenty-First Century
(Omango D?Press, 1975), has also published an entire book on sprouts,
Sprouts for the Love of Every Body
. These people feel, and I agree, that sprouts are likely the most vitally alive and nourishing foods we can eat. They are a great survival food, too. We can sprout these seeds, beans, and grains all year round. I believe that eating high amounts of sprouted foods, along with other vegetables and fruits, will promote health and vitality. Also, for overweight people, sprouts provide low-calorie, high-nutrient foods that also tend to support improved metabolism. Sprouts are also a good source of nutrients in the wintertime when there are less leafy greens and other vegetables available. And the amount of nourishment per dollar surpasses most any other food.