Last week, we talked about 'spring cleaning' your body by supporting your lymphatic system. This week, have a little fun using some seasonal veggies to continue that process.
After an interminable winter, the first few signs of spring’s warmth are very welcome – as are the first signs of growth in the garden, and the earliest harvests in the stores and farmers’ markets. Loaded with vitamins, the first vegetables (and fruits) of spring help our bodies naturally detox and get ready for increased activity levels. Here are a few specific foods to look for, their health benefits, and ideas for preparing them.
Asparagus: these slightly bitter spears are a good source of fiber, loaded with vitamins A, C, E, and K, and contain chromium, which enhances insulin function, and folate, which works with B12 to improve cognitive function. Asparagus also contains a number of antioxidant compounds, and in fact is among the top-ranked antioxidant vegetables, helping to protect against several cancers and slow the aging process. It is also a natural diuretic, helping to cleanse the body of excess fluids and salts, and contains inulin, a prebiotic that supports colon health and the growth of intestinal flora (good bacteria). Asparagus can be steamed, roasted, grilled, or stir-fried – quick cooking is best to preserve the vitamin content. I like to saute one-inch slices in a little bit of olive oil for just a few minutes, until very bright green, then add a few sliced almonds and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Peas: whether snap peas or snow peas, both of which are eaten with their hulls, or garden peas, which have inedible hulls, all peas are rich in protein and fiber, as well as vitamins, especially vitamin C (an important antioxidant) and the B vitamins, which help regulate lipid, carbohydrate, and protein levels and are important for blood vessel health and colon function. Early spring peas are delicious raw in salads, or can be lightly sauteed and tossed with pasta and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. You can even make a spring guacamole by substituting green peas for some of the avocado in your favorite recipe (thawed frozen peas will work well, too) and blending thoroughly.
Rhubarb: although often used as a fruit, rhubarb is botanically considered a vegetable. Rhubarb is high in vitamin K, which is involved in insulin function, and vitamin C, whose antioxidant function is vital to support the immune system and prevent free radical damage to cells. It is high in fiber, and is an excellent plant source of calcium. It can also function as a natural laxative. Interestingly, the antioxidant compounds in rhubarb are increased by cooking it. An easy way to experiment with rhubarb is to chop it up and substitute it for blueberries in your favorite (whole-grain!) muffin recipe.
These three vegetables are just a few of the early spring harvests that help support our body’s immune system, cleanse our digestive tracts, and strengthen our overall health. Like most seasonal vegetables, their flavor is best (and price is lowest) when they are in season, so look for them in the next month or two to take full advantage of these nutritional powerhouses!