With earth day barely a week behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to a new way to Go Green. This time, however, we’re not talking about forgoing paper napkins or ditching the polystyrene cup. In fact, we’re actually talking about adding something in: Dark, leafy green vegetables, and lots of ‘em.
Now granted, we’ve discussed many of these nutritional powerhouses in previous posts – here, here and here, for instance – but you see, and not to get all girly on you here, but leafy green vegetables are like the little black dress of the vegetable world. They go with just about everything, they’re appropriate for every occasion, and, with very few exceptions, they are universally liked. And for that reason, they deserve a second look!
According to the old school nursery rhyme, Mary had a little lamb, but chances are, after reading the post, you’ll want one too (although, admittedly, you’ll probably not be using your lamb for the soul purpose of causing a brouhaha on the playground)!
Although lamb has many redeeming qualities (which we’ll touch on below), if you only had one reason to rationalize serving this oft-overlooked meat at your next meal, let it be this: It isn’t chicken, beef or fish. Think we’re kidding? Consider this: If you do a Google search for chicken recipes, you’ll receive approximately 2,430,000 search options. A search for beef or fish? 1,130,000 and 824,000 hits, respectively. A search for lamb? 394,000 (although admittedly, there is an entire website called lambrecipes.com!)
Perhaps Popeye had it right. He pounded spinach for super-human strength and loved olive oil (although granted, it was a girl, not the healthy fat Rachel Ray is always harping on about!). But is spinach really good for your muscles and can it give you the boost you need to take on ol’ Bluto?
Let’s start with the most basic stuff: Calorie for calorie, spinach is perhaps one of the most nutrient dense vegetables out there (and it’s no slouch in the flavonoid department, but we’ll talk about that in a minute). In the vitamin department, it logs literally off-the-charts levels of vitamin K and vitamin A, providing 1110% and 234%, respectively, per 1 cup serving of boiled spinach (or 6 cups of raw spinach). Why would this be important? Well, vitamin K is important for bone health (especially when combined with calcium and magnesium, spinach’s other bone-building nutrients) and vitamin A is important for reducing the amount of free-radicals in the body as well as preventing cholesterol from oxidation – which is the process whereby cholesterol can cause damage to arteries. This effect is further amplified when the vitamin A is combined with vitamin C – which spinach also has in spades – a combination that is also thought to reduce inflammation, particularly among patients suffering from asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Ever had the debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable? Well, perhaps next time you could back up your argument for tomatoes being a fruit by noting that the eggplant, which is widely perceived to be a vegetable, is actually a fruit, and a berry at that!
Counting tomato, sweet peppers and potatoes among its relatives, this member of the nightshade family was once feared in some European cultures. According to reports, early versions of the eggplant were so bitter that people believed that they must also have a bitter disposition, earning the poor eggplant (or aubergine as it is called in France and much of Europe) a reputation as a cause of insanity, leprosy and cancer.
Looking to add a little spice to your life? Then look no further than hot peppers! A favorite food of Hillary Clinton as she moves along the campaign trail (if an article in the New York Times is to be believed!) hot peppers are easy to find, relatively cheap, and can be teamed with just about anything! (And that wasn’t a tacit endorsement in case you were wondering. Just a bit of trivial trivia.)
But what makes this fiery little morsel smart fuel? Well, in addition to being low in calories and seriously high in taste, hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin that is thought to convey anti-inflammatory properties, relieve the pain associated with headaches and arthritis – which is why it’s a popular ingredient in over the counter analgesics – and may even reduce the risk of certain cancers (although admittedly, this is when capsaicin was injected directly into cells as opposed to eaten). However, it should be noted that in areas of South America, where consumption of capsaicin-laden foods is common, rates of intestinal, stomach, and colon cancer rates are considered far lower than that of the United States. In addition, a study published in a 2006 edition of the journal Cancer Research suggests that hot peppers – and capsaicin in particular – prompts human prostate cancer cell apoptosis (cell death) and may also inhibit prostate cancer cell proliferation. Further proof of their position as a smart fuel? Hot peppers contain several important nutrients, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and pack twice the amount of vitamin C, pound for pound, than most citrus fruits!
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