Could you use a little spring-cleaning from the inside out? Right now farmers markets are overflowing with spring produce, and loading up on in-season veggies is one of the best ways to boost your health and feel more energetic. But if you’ve ever wondered what to do with an artichoke once you get it home, or you’re not sure how to make veggies taste mouth-watering good, I have some tips to help (and of course some nutrition info too).
Unlike most veggies, it’s not obvious what to do to with an artichoke, but it’s definitely worth figuring out - one medium cooked artichoke provides just 65 calories but packs a whopping 10 grams of dietary fiber. They’re also rich in antioxidants as well as vitamin C for immune health and potassium, which helps control blood pressure.
Here are 6 easy steps to cooking a fresh artichoke:
• Wash it
• Cut off the stem and the top one third of the artichoke
• Peel off the smallest outer leaves
• Place the artichoke face down in a glass dish with a small amount of water in the bottom (about 2 Tbsp) and cover with wax paper
• Microwave for about 7 minutes on high
• Leave the paper cover on, and let stand for 5 minutes
To eat, pull off outer petals, one at a time. Tightly grip the non-fleshy end of the petal. Place in your mouth, and pull through your teeth to remove the soft, pulpy portion. Discard remaining petal.
Asparagus is a natural diuretic, so it helps control blood pressure, and it’s rich in a number of nutrients including vitamins C and A, which are both key antioxidants. It also contains a type of carbohydrate called inulin, a prebiotic, which helps the good probiotic bacteria flourish in your digestive system.
How to Enjoy:
All you have to do is wash asparagus, cut off the bottom end of the stalk and steam, grill, sauté or stir-fry. One of my favorite ways to enjoy this spring gem is to steam in lemon water, then chill and serve cold with hummus or roasted red pepper pesto.
Beets contain extremely potent cancer fighters and they’re rich in minerals including magnesium and potassium. They’ve also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is a trigger for premature aging and disease. And a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that organic beet juice boosted endurance in athletes by 16 percent compared to a placebo drink.
How to Enjoy:
If you’ve never prepared fresh beets you’re in for a treat! Fresh beets are far more delicious than the canned version most people turn up their noses at (just be sure to wear an apron, because the gorgeous pigment will definitely stain your hands and clothes). You can eat them raw, steamed, roasted, or sautéed. To sprinkle into to a garden salad, just wash, cut off the root and stem ends, remove the skin using a vegetable peeler, and coarsely grate them. One of my other favorite ways to enjoy beets is roasted. After peeling, slice, mist, or brush with extra virgin olive oil, and roast at 400 F for 25 to 30 minutes.
A recent study found that a natural substance in cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage, protects the bends and branches in blood vessels, areas that tend to be the most prone to cholesterol build-up and inflammation. This same family of veggies also contains natural detoxers known to deactivate carcinogens and stop the growth of any existing cancer cells.
How to Enjoy:
Cabbage can be blended into juices along with carrots, celery and fruits like apples and pears, or of course eaten as sauerkraut, but my favorite way to enjoy it is in vinegar-based slaw. I whisk together a combo of brown rice vinegar, fresh squeezed citrus juice, fresh grated ginger, orange zest, roasted garlic and white pepper, and toss the sauce with shredded cabbage and black sesame seeds.
Shrooms are the only plant source of natural vitamin D (a key nutrient 75 percent of Americans don't get enough of) that’s linked to lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Studies also link low vitamin D intakes to more total fat and belly fat. Mushrooms also contain unique antioxidants that fight aging and heart disease. And natural substances in mushrooms have been shown to protect against breast cancer by preventing levels of estrogen in the body from becoming excessive.
How to Enjoy:
For a super easy appetizer, marinate button mushrooms in balsamic vinaigrette and serve on toothpicks. Skewer mushrooms and toss on the grill, or slice and sautée with a little extra virgin olive oil and garlic and serve over organic greens as a quick side dish or bed for a serving of lean protein like tofu, lentils or salmon.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.