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03-05 Benefits of Vegetables

How lucky is green—really?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, we're eating 30 percent more cane, beet, corn, and other added sugars than we did in 1983 and the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day. This is double the USDA's recommendation that the average person eat no more than 10 teaspoons (40 grams) of added sugar per day (“added sugar” does not include sugar naturally found in milk and fruit).

Adding just one vegetable a day cuts heart disease risk by 4%

Today we eat an astonishingly narrow range of vegetables if we compare what scientists and historical observers have recorded as being eaten. One writer states that there can be anywhere from 83-120 plants used as vegetables.

What are 'vegetables'?
A vegetable is basically any part of a plant that can be eaten.

As a result, we have been able to eat many different parts of selected plants - flowers, flower buds (globe artichoke), leaves (lettuce), leaf buds (Brussels sprouts), shoots (asparagus), shoot buds (cabbage), flower stem (broccoli) and immature seed pods (green beans). Vegetables have many important nutrients that help in overall health. Greater consumption of vegetables (5-9 servings or 2 1/2-4 1/2 cups per day depending on calorie needs) is associated with a reduced risk of stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, with a reduced risk of cancers in certain sites (oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, stomach, and colon-rectum), and with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, increased consumption of vegetables may be a useful component of programs designed to achieve and sustain weight loss.

Why do athletes need vegetables?
When a person works out they use more oxygen.  Unfortunately oxygen can have some disadvantages. Oxygen can create free radicals. Free radicals have been known to damage a nucleus of a cell over time. Antioxidants such as Vit A, E, and C neutralize these free radicals so they are no longer dangerous. However they need to be present when the free radicals are being formed. When an athlete averages only one vegetable serving a day, you can see how the body can not meet the nutrient demands of 2-4 hours of exercise a day, after day, after day.

Nutrients found in Vegetables
Vitamin A
Vitamin B6
Vitamin E
Vitamin C
Vitamin B6
Alpha-linolenic acid
Dark Green Vegetables
Vitamin A
Vitamin C

Sources of Vegetables
You can get vegetables from canned, frozen or fresh sources. That way you have no excuses to avoid or ignore vegetable servings. Please pay special attention to the guidelines below so you can maximize your nutrient efforts!

Canned Vegetables

  • Avoid temperature extremes. Store cans in a cool place where the temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees F (67 degrees F is ideal). Vegetables in cans stored at 85 degrees F lose twice as much vitamin content as those stored at 67 degrees F.

  • Low humidity prevents damage to cans. While exterior rust does not affect the contents of cans, its presence indicates that you are storing cans in an area that has too much humidity.

  • Most vegetables in cans will remain in good shape for two or three years. However, it's best to use them within a year. Use a first in, first out system.

Fresh Vegetables

  • The length of time raw vegetables are stored, as well as storage temperature and humidity, affects retention of their nutrients.

  • Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and salad greens need to be refrigerated promptly in the vegetable crisper or in moisture-proof bags. They keep their nutrients best at near-freezing temperature and at high humidity

  • Cabbage should not be allowed to dry out. If it is to be held for a few days, wrap it or put it in the vegetable crisper where the humidity is high.

  • Green peas and green lima beans hold their nutrients better if left in their pods until ready to use. If shelled, put them into plastic bags before storing in the refrigerator

Frozen Vegetables

  • The most important aspect of storing frozen vegetables is to keep them frozen. In order to limit the amount of time frozen vegetables are exposed to warmer temperatures, buy all your frozen foods last when grocery shopping. You may also want to bring a cooler to store frozen foods for the ride home, especially in the hot summer months. When you get home, put away all frozen items first.

  • Optimal freezer temperatures range from 0 to 20 degrees F. It is better to avoid storing frozen vegetables in self-defrosting freezers, because the thaw cycle destroys the cell structure of the product, thus reducing the quality.

  • Upon removing the vegetables from the freezer for use, check to see that the packaging has not been punctured or ripped. If the packaging remains intact, the product should remain in good shape for a long time, although 24 months is the rule of thumb.

  • If you plan to use only part of a package of frozen vegetables, you can safely store the rest and use it later, as long as it is sealed properly. Do not let the unused portion thaw before refreezing, as ice crystals will affect the quality of the product.

  • Keep in mind that freezing does not kill bacteria; it merely slows down their growth. Therefore, if a product already contains bacteria, they will still be there when it is thawed, regardless of how long it has been frozen. That is why it is important to maintain freezing temperatures and airtight packaging.

As far as the green vegetables go, you can get more than just Romaine lettuce (note GREENS Chart). Green vegetables do have a great source of nutrients, in fact, the greener the better! Who knows, maybe we can eat that four-leaf clover?!


Belgian Endive
Bibb Lettuce
Bok Choy
Butterhead/Boston Lettuce
Red Cabbage
Chicory/Curly Endive
Chinese Cabbage
Collard Greens
Fiddlehead Fern
Iceberg lettuce

Mustard Greens
Rapini/Broccoli Raab
Red Leaf Lettuce
Romaine Lettuce
Salad Savoy/Flowering Kale
Swiss Chard
Turnip Greens

Dawn Weatherwax, ATL, RD/LD, CSCS

Love Starts
in the Kitchen!™

Rita Nader Heikenfeld,
CCP, Herbalist

Macy’s Culinary Professional

Sensational Steamed Spinach with Garlic
Popeye ate spinach for strength, and so should you. Rich in carotenoids, which are like bodyguards against cancer causing agents, spinach also is a good source of B vitamins and heart healthy minerals. And don’t forget about calcium!

Just like you get in Italian restaurants, but at a fraction of the cost! Wonderful as a side dish to seafood, poultry or as a vegetarian main dish. To make a vegetarian main dish cook couscous according to package directions, substituting fat free vegetable broth for the water, if you like. Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic to the liquid and 1 can chickpeas, drained, when you add the couscous. Mound on platter and top with Spinach. Drizzle on some balsamic vinegar and a shake or two of fat free Parmesan.  Yumm!

Spray bottom of large pot with olive oil spray. Add 1 teaspoon of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon or more red pepper flakes. Cook just a minute until garlic is fragrant but not brown. Add 8-10 oz spinach, washed (leave some water clinging to leaves). Put lid on and cook on high until wilted. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Really Great Roasted/Grilled Asparagus
By Rita Heikenfield
Serves 6

Asparagus really are spears of protection. A wonderful source of the B vitamin, folate, a vitamin that is essential for helping cells regenerate. Asparagus can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and can prevent birth defects.

•1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed if necessary
•Olive oil spray
•Fat free Parmesan Cheese
•Lemon Pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  Put asparagus spears in single layer on sprayed cookie sheet.  Spray with olive oil spray, turning to coat spears. Sprinkle with lemon pepper to taste and a small amount of cheese.  Roast for 7-10 minutes, until asparagus turns bright green but is still firm to the bite. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a bit more cheese.

To grill: Follow directions above on a hot grill.

Tips from Rita’s Kitchen: When using salt, opt for sea salt.  It contains more minerals than regular salt and is much more flavorful, so you’ll use less, cutting the amount of sodium in your diet!

Snow Peas with Sesame Oil
A great side dish!  No real recipe here, so use creative license! Steam or microwave snow peas until crisp tender. Toss with a few shakes of sesame seed oil (you won’t need much), to taste.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you like, and a shake or two of sea salt. 

Steamed Edamame for salads, soups, stews, snacks
Edamame are a high source of protein and fiber. I like the shelled edamame.  Just steam or cook in a small amount of boiling water until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and sprinkle with sea salt if eating as a snack. Or cool and top your salads, grains and bean dishes with a handful.

Learn more from the expert. Attend one of her presentations!
- "Dinners in a Dash"
- "Foods that Heal: The Ten Best Healing Foods and How to Cook Them"
- "Herbs that Heal: How to Grow and Cook with the Ten Best Healing Herbs"
- "Spa Products: Make your Own!"
- "Aromatherapy at Home: How to use Herbs and Essential Oils for a Stress
Free Life"
- "From Garden to Kitchen with Herbs"
- "Gardening in a Tea Cup"
- "Kids in the Kitchen"
- "Kids in the Garden"
- "Herbal Teas"

Email Rita at
for more information.

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