The advent of fall brings with it a yield of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables that are grown, often organically, close to home. As the seasons change, our eating habits can be transformed merely by enjoying the abundance of foods in season.
Local Foods Packed with Nutrition
By Amy Cohen
Nutritional experts at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have found that “the single most important dietary change for most people, including children, would be to replace fatty foods with foods rich in complex carbohydrates.” CSPI created a ranking of nutritional content for all vegetables. Take a guess as to which vegetable received the highest nutritional score. Not only did this tasty treat receive a stellar score, it topped the charts at 184 points, over 100 points higher than the second highest vegetable!
Yes, the simple sweet potato ranks number one in nutrition above all the vegetables. It racked up points from the CSPI for its dietary fiber, natural sugars and complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.
The second highest vegetable scored only 84 points: the potato. Think about how you could shift your nutritional intake merely by replacing potatoes with sweet potatoes in your diet!
Okra is another delightful Tennessee vegetable. Okra contains anti-oxidants and vitamins A and C. It also provides vitamin K, iron, calcium and magnesium. Okra stored in the refrigerator should be eaten as soon as possible. Chop off the ends, slice the pod into bite-size chunks, and it is ready to cook. In Caribbean and Creole cultures, okra is often eaten stewed with tomatoes and other vegetables or in soups, adding aromatic spices. Okra blends well with rice and meats.
Turnip Greens, Arugula, Cabbage and Kale
Though some people are reluctant to try greens, they are flavorful and packed with nutrients like vitamins A, K, C, E and B6. Turnip greens, arugula, cabbage and kale grow beautifully in the Tennessee Valley.
Turnip greens are slightly bitter, edible leaves. Filled with folate, copper, calcium, and fiber, they are eaten regularly in South American cuisine. They often come attached to their root, the turnip. After purchase, separate the root from the leaves for refrigerator storage. Wash leaves under cold water to remove dirt. Try serving healthy sautéed turnip greens by seasoning them with an Asian sauce, such as tamari or soy, and adding lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Cooked turnip greens go well with beans and rice, sweet potatoes, and can be added to veggie lasagna along with spinach.
Arugula is a dark, leafy salad green related to broccoli and cauliflower. Arugula is a good source of vitamins and minerals for few calories per serving. Due to its slightly peppery flavor, arugula mixes nicely with milder salad greens. Add vinaigrette, some favorite nuts, a sprinkle of feta cheese, tomatoes, or other toppings that you enjoy for a perfect salad.
Don’t shy away from cabbage this fall. Try shredding it with carrot for an Asian cole slaw with tamari, ginger, and a drizzle of canola and sesame oils. Stir fry it with your favorite meats and vegetables. Cabbage is rich in vitamins and minerals, is inexpensive, and merges with the delicious flavor of its seasonings.
Kale is a deep green, ruffled leaf. It combines pungent flavor with bitter, peppery character. Kale is high in fiber and offers plenty of calcium without the fat of dairy products. Select small leaves that are not wilted. Thoroughly wash the leaves in cold water to remove any remaining sand. Sauté kale with garlic and your favorite herbs. Add it to the top of a pizza, to a quiche or omelet, or combine it with pasta, feta cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil.
No local list would be complete without apples. We are fortunate to enjoy numerous apple varieties in our area. Rich in vitamin C and containing 15 percent of the daily value for fiber in just one medium-sized apple, research shows that apples may help protect us from chronic diseases due to the antioxidants found in the flesh and the skin. Apples are also thought to potentially reduce the risks of lung, colon and breast cancers.
When enjoying apple juice or cider this season, remember: the more pulp the better. “Cloudy” apple juice that contains pulp found in whole apples is better at supporting the cardiovascular system than clear apple juice that does not contain this pulp. So leave the skin on when baking an apple pie, toss some apples in a salad, or enjoy sliced apples with cheese for a healthy snack.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends that we eat more fruits and veggies than any other food group. The adage: “An apple a day…” still rings true today.