Diet & Nutrition

Eight super-vegetables to improve your health

Eight vegetables are in a league of their own when it comes to promoting health and preventing disease, writes Karen Inge.
Eating more vegetables is the single most important dietary change needed to reduce the risk of major chronic diseases.
There's a strong relationship between high vegetable consumption and reduced risk of diseases, such as some cancers, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Eating more vegetables also means lower energy intake, so lower risk of obesity, as vegetables have a very high nutrient density (the amount of essential nutrients relative to kilojoules) and are low in kilojoules.
All vegetables are good for us, but here are my super 8.
1. Broccoli
Nutritional value: Excellent source of vitamins C, E, K, folate and dietary fibre. Contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc. Booster Broccoli, a new hybrid launched in 2009, is super high in sulforaphanes — long-lasting antioxidants.
Health benefits: Like other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica family (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale), all broccoli has sulphur-containing compounds, such as isothiocyanates, that may reduce the risk of developing cancer. These beneficial chemicals are in higher concentrations in broccoli sprouts, so a small serve offers the same benefits as a large serve of broccoli.
Recipe idea: Broccoli flowers are like mini trees soaking up delicious dressings or broth or sauces. Enjoy in soups, stir-fries and salads. Discard the stalks if you find them hard to digest.
2. Mushrooms (a worthy inclusion, but not strictly a vegetable)
Nutritional value: A serve (100g) of mushrooms (three button or one flat) provides more than 20 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for each of the B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid), biotin and the minerals selenium and copper. They have bio-available vitamin B12 on the surface and in the flesh and are only non-animal food to have natural Vitamin D. Very low in kilojoules.
Health benefits: Unique compounds in mushrooms appear to protect us from breast and prostate cancer. Research suggests women eating 10g mushrooms or more daily reduce their risk of breast cancer by 60 per cent.
Recipe idea: In soup, or wok-toss mushrooms with a paste of chilli, ginger and garlic, or simply slice thinly and add to your favourite egg dish or risotto.
3. Red onions
Nutritional value: Contains vitamin C, B6, thiamine, folate, potassium, dietary fibre and fructo-oligosaccharides (starches that the body can't fully digest — a prebiotic), also a rich source of the flavonoid, quercetin, and anthocyanin pigments.
Health benefits: May play a role in immune function. Studies in China show that men with a high intake of foods from the onion family, including leek, garlic and chives, have a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, beneficial for heart health.
Recipe idea: Best eaten raw for its health benefits, red onion is fabulous sliced thinly in salads with tomatoes and cucumber, with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, or chopped finely with capers and cubed salmon, with a squeeze of lime juice for a delicious salmon tartare.
4. Spinach
Nutritional value: Super high in vitamin K and a good source of vitamins A, C and folate, it also contains lutein, potassium, calcium and iron (but, due to the oxalate content, this is not well absorbed). Rich source of the powerful antioxidant lutein and other phytochemicals such as glutathione.
Health benefits: Lutein offers protection against age-related macular degeneration in the eye, the leading cause of blindness in people over 50. Folate is important to prevent neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida. A number of studies show that older women who consume lots of vitamin K have denser bones and fewer hip fractures.
Recipe idea: Baby spinach leaves in a salad, tossed with chopped walnuts, orange slices, sliced mushrooms and vinaigrette dressing.
5. Beetroot Nutritional value
Nutritional value: High in folate and packed with carotenoids that give it strong antioxidant properties, beetroot provides carbohydrate, is an excellent source of dietary fibre and contains a natural nitrate compound called betaine.
Health benefits: Promotes synthesis of mood-enhancing serotonin and shown to decrease blood pressure. Drinking beetroot juice (500ml) increases endurance in athletes by reducing the amount of oxygen used during exercise.
Recipe idea: For a fresh and colourful salad, toss wedges of cooked beetroot with blanched snow peas, red onion slices, baby spinach leaves and a splash of olive oil and vinegar.
6. Celery
Nutritional value: An underrated vegetable, low in kilojoules (you may burn more kilojoules chomping it than is in it!). Good source of vitamins K, B6, folate and dietary fibre.
Health benefit: Contains phytochemicals called Phthalides that some studies show decrease stress hormones levels, so reducing stiffness in arteries muscle walls, increasing blood flow. Long used in Chinese medicine to help control blood pressure.
Recipe idea: Great flavour enhancer in soups and casseroles. Crunchy in salads or as a healthy snack filled with cottage cheese and chives or a smear of peanut butter.
7. Red capsicum
Nutritional value: Very low in kilojoules, three times the vitamin C of an orange, excellent source of beta-carotene and one of the best sources of other carotenoids, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin and, to a lesser extent, lycopene. More nutritious than green capsicum.
Health benefits: May have anti-cancer properties by blocking the formation of cancer-causing agents called nitrosamines.
Recipe idea: Cut off the top, scoop out seeds, slice lengthwise and serve raw as a healthy snack with low-fat dips. Delicious brushed with olive oil and garlic, then roasted in the oven or stuffed with a mixture of rice and herbs.
8. Carrots
Nutritional value: One of the highest sources of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A, as well as other carotenoids, such as alpha-carotenoid, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein. Also contains other protective phytochemicals. Good source of dietary fibre and potassium.
Health benefits: Has potential cancer-fighting properties. The Harvard Nurses Study also revealed that those who ate five carrots a week lowered their risk of stroke by 68 per cent compared with those who only ate one carrot a month or none at all.
Recipe idea: A convenient and nutritious snack to eat raw. However, as some children can taste the 'bitter' flavours at much lower levels than the average adult, it may be a good idea to cook carrots to make them taste sweeter.

Your say: Do you have any tips for getting children (or adults!) to eat more vegetables?

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