What are you eating? Stroll through the produce section at your local grocery store or your local farmer’s market and you’ll find a variety of healthy vegetables. From broccoli to spinach, from carrots to asparagus, they are all packed with low calorie high content nutrition. Chances are, you’re only buying from a small percentage of the produce section. We’ve all walked past the selections that we are either unsure about, can’t identify, or that are just downright odd. You may very well be missing out on some diverse and super nutrient dense vegetable options.
Sprouts encompass a whole collection of healthy vegetables. Sprouts at their core are actually the germination of seed that is eaten. They are usually eaten raw but can be enjoyed cooked as well. Sprouts are rich in bioavailable vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. What makes them tiny little nutritional powerhouses is the fact that these nutrients are necessary for the plant to grow from the seed.
What is unique about sprouts is that they can originate from a variety of sources. Some examples being
- Oil seeds (sunflower, sesame, peanut)
- Whole grains (oats, wheat, corn)
Let’s look at some of the nutritious sprout selections.
Brussels sprout. These leafy green vegetable pods are part of the cabbage family. While these nutrient dense vegetable powerhouses have been popular in Europe for years, they hold a certain (and unfair) stigma in North America. Brussels sprouts are rich in Vitamin C and K and contain Sulforaphane, an organic compound that has been shown to have anticancer properties. It is preferred to steam or bake Brussels sprouts as boiling tends to reduce the nutritional effectiveness.
As I mentioned, they have sort of become the black sheep of the American vegetable selection. However, when steamed and drizzled with olive oil or baked they can be a great addition to your plate.
Bean sprouts. These are most recognizable as the long thin greenish/white vegetables found in many Asian dishes especially in soups or spring rolls. They generally originate from mung bean. Similar to Brussels sprouts they are great sources of vitamin C and K. They also contain iron and Folate. This is great for those who don’t eat red meat and may be deficient in iron.
Alfalfa is one of the most widely grown crops in the world (in 2009 it accounted for 74,000,000 acres of farm land). It is traditionally used in large quantities as animal feed for milking animals due to the amino acid content and fiber. There is no reason that these health benefits should be neglected in human consumption. Alfalfa is one of the easiest and cheapest seeds to spout.
Due to their small size Alfalfa sprouts are regularly found as additions to salads and sandwiches. Alfalfa is a great source of Vitamin C, D, E and K as well as calcium and chlorophyll.
It should be noted that the washing of sprouts is very important as commercially grown sprouts are susceptible to bacteria. However, the FDA and Health Canada (the FDAs Canadian counterpart) has imposed strict regulations on sprout manufacturing.
Beets fall into that odd category. They are a far departure from the usually green or leafy vegetables we are used to. Beets have a rich yet dark red color. That red coloring comes from betalains, a phytonutrient that offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Beets are a great source of Folate which is of particular importance to pregnant women as Folate is shown to help with fetal development.
The betacyaninis in beets play a role in fighting certain kinds of cancer. Beets offer a host of other benefits including heart health, eye health, and cholesterol control, and boosting stamina.
*It should be noted that increased ingestion of betalains can cause the urine to turn red in color which is often mistaken for blood.
Since we are looking at out of the ordinary vegetables, we can’t emphasize that point any more than Nopales. Unless you are of Hispanic decent or versed in Hispanic cuisine you likely have never heard of this. Nopales are a type of cactus. In fact there are over 200 species of cactus worldwide.
Nopales are a great nutrient dense vegetable because they are rich in manganese, magnesium, and calcium. They pack a powerful nutritional punch at a very low caloric intake, roughly 16 calories per 100 grams with 2.2 grams’ dietary fiber. Additionally, the plant is rich in phytochemicals like Carotene and anti-oxidants.
Nopales are excellent sources of Vitamin A, C, and K. Furthermore, they contain important electrolytes potassium and sodium.
Juice from the Nopale plant species have anti-inflammatory properties.
Noplaes can be eaten raw in salads or as a side to a protein. They are often paired with onion, tomato, and peppers. Nopales can be baked, fried, boiled, roasted, or grilled in addition to serving raw. You can find them in most grocery stores in the South West or in specialty Hispanic food stores. In case you were wondering, the prickly spines are removed before they are put out for sale.
So there you have three options to diversify your healthy vegetable menu. This is just a small list. There are dozens of unique vegetables out there. Take some time and browse your entire produce section to find new choices to try. If you don’t know what is what, ask the grocer. If you really want to get unorthodox take a trip to an ethnic market that will likely sell vegetables, you’ve never imagined existed. A great example to part on, check out this picture of Romanesco Broccoli.