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 Foods: Vegetables 
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.

Leafy Greens

Cabbage Lettuce
Chard Spinach
Collards Watercress

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.

Cabbage. 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. 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.

Collards. 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. 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.

Lettuce. 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. ?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.

Watercress. 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.


Asparagus Leeks
Celery Rhubarb

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.

Asparagus. 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.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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