It’s National Vegetarian Week, celebrating all things great about adopting a totally or predominantly plant-based diet. However, there has also been a rise in people becoming flexitarian; still eating some animal produce but significantly increasing their intake of plant-based foods.
Whilst all vegetables deliver wonderful health benefits, there are certainly some stars in their field.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five of her favourites.
Whilst you might not think of soy as a vegetable, it’s part of the legume family. Soya is one of the best vegetable sources of protein, therefore makes a great addition to a vegetarian diet.
Soya is widely consumed in Eastern diets but importantly it’s eaten in its fermented form in foods such as tofu, tempeh and kombucha, produced from the whole bean. Refined forms or those that have been genetically modified should ideally be avoided.
However, apart from their impressive protein content, soya beans are high in important trace minerals such as copper, manganese and phosphorus, essential for joints and bones. Plus, fermented soya works on the body’s natural gut bacteria to produce bone and heart-loving vitamin K and energising folate. There is also plenty of research to suggest soya delivers a number of cardiovascular benefits, especially raising good HDL cholesterol levels.
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet. It contains around 30% protein so is great for both a vegetarian and flexitarian diet.
As with all green leafy vegetables, its nutrient profile is impressive. Spinach is also a great source of vitamin K but is probably famously known for its iron content. Vegetarians can sometimes be lacking in iron since red meat provides the most bio-available form, therefore spinach can help plug the gaps. As with any green food or vegetable, spinach is great for alkalising and detoxifying the body and is in season right now!
Another vegetable with good protein content, asparagus is at its absolute best right now. English asparagus has so much more taste and ‘bite’ than at any other time of the year. Make sure you grab some, gently steam or barbecue and serve simply, seasoned with pepper and salt and a little grated Parmesan cheese.
Asparagus provides plenty of energising B-vitamins, as well as trace minerals such as magnesium, frequently lacking in the Western diet. Plus, it is known as a prebiotic food which helps feed the good gut bacteria, providing benefits to the immune system, especially important during the current situation.
Often referred to as a superfood, broccoli has some amazing health benefits, partly because of the range of nutrients and flavonoids it contains. Broccoli has some of the highest amounts of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Plus is helps improve liver health by stimulating detoxification processes and antioxidant compounds in the liver.
Just like these other vegetables, broccoli contains some usable amounts of protein so is great for the vegetarian diet, plus it is packed full of immune-boosting vitamin C. It can be steamed, roasted or sautéed and works well with garlic, chilli and sesame seeds for a real taste punch!
From the same family as broccoli, cauliflower and kale, these dark green leaves also deliver wonderful health benefits, and contain the same profile of antioxidants and other plant compounds.
If you worry that greens are too bland, it’s all about what they’re served with. Greens work really well with strong flavours such as onions, leeks or mushrooms. And in order to preserve maximum nutrients, taste and texture, they’re much better steamed or sautéed, perhaps with some garlic.
As with all green vegetables, collards are rich in trace minerals especially magnesium, manganese and calcium – all frequently deficient in the diet and essential for many aspects of our health.
So, embrace National Vegetarian Week and serve yourself some super health vegetables to celebrate!
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