by Marcia Sikorski, RD, LDN, CDE
Thanks to summer gardens and local farmers markets, the warm months are the perfect time to increase your family’s intake of fresh, healthful produce. Variety is the key, along with eating enough vegetables, anywhere from 1½ cups for children to 3 cups for adults. It is the types of vegetables you eat that really matter. Vegetables are divided into subgroups based upon their nutritional content, so it truly does take a diet full of color and variety to fuel your body with the nutrition it needs.
For the dark green vegetable subgroup, think broccoli, collard greens, kale, and spinach, which provide important nutrients like calcium, iron, lutein, and antioxidants. These help with bone and eye health, nourish the skin and keep our brains working well.
The red and orange group contains red peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and a variety of squash like acorn and butternut. These vegetables provide the essential vitamins A and C, as well as manganese, fiber, and lycopene, all of which have been shown to decrease inflammation and help prevent cancers and heart disease.
The beans and peas group includes kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils. Green peas, green lima beans, and green beans actually fall into other subgroups based upon their nutritional content. A big benefit of this group is the high protein, high fiber content, not to mention iron and zinc that all come from a diet rich in these foods.
Starchy vegetables like the ever-popular corn, green peas and potatoes are often looked down upon in the nutritional world. Starchy vegetables contain about 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving versus non-starchy vegetables that usually have less than 5 grams. Eating these foods will spike blood sugar much faster than other vegetables. Starchy vegetables still provide numerous nutritional benefits, including folate, potassium, and vitamins C and K so with proper planning, they can still, in proper portion, have a place in your diet.
The other vegetable group is where you will find artichokes, asparagus, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, onions, and mushrooms. These vegetables provide fiber and a variety of nutritional benefits, like the magnesium and potassium found in beets, and the anti-bacterial properties found in onions and garlic.
Getting adequate servings and a variety of vegetables is key to proper nutrition. The summer season provides a bounty of fresh vegetables to enjoy but vegetables that are frozen or canned (preferably no salt added) provide the same nutrients. Look for recipes online to help add a variety flavor to the variety of vegetables you serve.
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Marcia Sikorski, RD, LDN, CDE