It’s January and for many people, that means it’s Veganuary. For some of us, it may just be a continuation of our vegan diet but, for others, it could be the start of a new regime.
Whether you’re giving it a go for the first time or have been enjoying the wonders of a vegan diet for a while, it’s always good to be reminded of some of the most important vegetables to include in your diet and their great health benefits.
Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five veggies.
Sweet potatoes are often one of the mainstay vegetables of a vegan diet as they are a fabulously nutritious and versatile vegetable. Sweet potatoes are often misunderstood and categorised as ‘another type of potato’ but they are from different plant families. Whilst both types of potatoes have plenty of health benefits, sweet potatoes are better for balancing blood sugar levels as they are lower on the glycaemic index.
However, where sweet potatoes really score is in their high beta-carotene content. This is turned into immune-supportive vitamin A, as needed, by the body, and is especially helpful at this time of year. Try them roasted, in their jackets, in curries, stews and soups: there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate them into a vegan diet.
As a member of the amazing cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli’s health benefits are far-reaching. When it comes to nutrient content broccoli delivers high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron, beta-carotene and potassium and also a range of powerful antioxidants.
Antioxidants soak up free radicals and help protect us from disease and there are many different types. However, broccoli contains an especially health-giving compound called indole, which has been found to protect DNA from damage, very important for prevention of serious degenerative diseases. What’s more, it’s so easy to include in the diet. Think of it as a side or use it in stir-fries. Try it roasted with a little soy sauce or simply lightly steamed. It can be included in an array of veggie-based dishes.
Often called sweet peppers (as they are ripened for longer than green peppers) or bell peppers, they contain three times as much immune-boosting vitamin C as oranges. Plus, as with other red and brightly coloured vegetables, they are high in beta-carotene, so your immune system is really going to benefit.
Red peppers are incredibly versatile and can be simply grilled or stuffed with savoury rice or other grains. They are great in stir fries, chopped in salads, or grilled, skinned and pureed to be made into a delicious fat-free sauce as a perfect topping to wholemeal pasta.
Often referred to as curly kale for obvious reasons, it’s another green vegetable with superfood status. Interestingly, there are many different varieties of kale and some are not curly but smooth-leaved!
Just like broccoli and brussels sprouts, kale is packed with indoles, but it is the richest source of calcium of all vegetables, so is great for building strong bones and teeth. Calcium is also a calming mineral so is much needed during these stressful times. A great January vegetable, kale helps cleanse the liver and break down and eliminate ‘old’ hormones therefore helping create feelings of balance and peace. Kale does have a slightly bitter taste so is often best served lightly grilled with some soya sauce to balance the flavours.
Another super-healthy green vegetable, spinach is probably best eaten raw in salads as a substitute for lettuce. It’s also very tasty in wraps with falafel or avocado and hummus. Spinach can of course be included in cooking or as a vegetable side, but you just need to use a fair number of leaves as it wilts down to very small amounts. However, it’s delicious when served with garlic.
Spinach doesn’t actually have the highest iron levels (contrary to popular myth) but it certainly scores brilliantly with its carotenoid content. This includes both beta carotene and lutein which is excellent for eyesight. Indeed, all carotenoids have powerful antioxidant effects so are very protective of overall health.
So, make your Veganuary the healthiest and tastiest ever – enjoy!
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