Food Group Superfoods: Vegetables (Part 6)

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We’re into week six of reviewing some “superfoods.” Have any of you been inspired by these entries to eat more fruits, vegetables, or whole grains? Have any of you ventured forth to try a food that you’ve never eaten but have always wondered about? It’s easy to get in a rut and complain that meals are boring, but if you open your eyes to all the different foods that are available, you’ll see that there’s plenty to choose from. Hopefully this series will encourage you to try some new foods, both for variety and for the nutritional benefits. This week, we’ll look at two more vegetables. (Check out last week’s entry for information about artichokes and beets.)

What they offer: They can make a person cry, so you might be surprised at how good these “eye-watering” vegetables are for you. The word “onion” comes from the Latin word unio, meaning “single large pearl,” which is appropriate for two reasons: Most onions form a single bulb when they’re growing, and onions are made up of many layers that together comprise a single bulb.

Onions are related to the lily and are part of the Allium family of vegetables, along with garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. Onions represented various things back in ancient times: To the Egyptians, onions signified eternity, and to the Romans, onions were a cure-all. If you lived in medieval times, you’d be fortunate to receive onions as a wedding gift. (Try finding onions on a wedding registry today!) The leading growers of onions are China, India, the United States, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Most of us don’t think of biting into an onion for a quick snack — it’s enough to make your eyes water just thinking about it. But we’d be wise to find more ways to fit onions into our diets. One cup of onions provides more than 20% of the Daily Value for chromium, a trace mineral essential for glucose regulation. Some people find that chromium is helpful in managing their diabetes. Onions are also rich in vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and folate. Speaking of glucose, onions contain sulfur compounds (these are what give onions their distinctive odor). One of the sulfur compounds is allyl propyl disulphide, a substance that may help lower blood glucose levels by increasing insulin levels in the body. This substance can also lower LDL (also known as “bad”) cholesterol. Quercetin is an antioxidant found in onions; this phytonutrient (plant-derived chemical that may have health benefits) may help protect against lung and other cancers. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Nutrition info: One half-cup of chopped onion contains 32 calories, roughly 7 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, and 0 grams fat. Onions have a low glycemic index of 10.

What to look for/how to use: There are many varieties of onions; some are sweeter than others. Choose onions that are clean and free from sprouts and that have a crisp, dry outer skin. Store them at room temperature or slightly cooler than room temperature. Chill them for about an hour before cutting to limit tearing of the eyes. Onions go with just about anything. If you can’t tolerate raw onions, sautéing helps to sweeten them. Try them in casseroles, salads, on pizza, or added to guacamole.

What it offers: Celery offers more than just crunch and a way to get dip into your mouth. This vegetable is related to carrots, fennel, parsley, and dill. Most of us eat just the stalks, but the leaves, roots, and seeds can also be eaten, and they have all been used for medicinal purposes.

There are three main types of celery: Chinese celery, celeriac, and var dulce, which is the variety most commonly eaten in the U.S. One cup of celery provides almost 45% of the percent Daily Value for vitamin K; it’s also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin A. You might be surprised to learn that celery also contains calcium (although not as much as dairy products or other green, leafy vegetables). Celery additionally contains phthalides, substances that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and coumarins, which may lower cancer risk. Celery seeds have been used to treat arthritis, gout, and muscle spasms, and they contain antioxidants and alpha-linoleic acid, a building block of omega-3 fatty acid. Plus, the seeds act as a diuretic (a substance that rids the body of excess water). It’s also a myth that celery is high in sodium. One 8″ stalk contains only 32 milligrams of sodium; even if you ate four stalks, the level of sodium still wouldn’t be all that high.

Nutrition info: One medium (8″) stalk of celery contains 6 calories (making this a great snack choice), 1 gram of carbohydrate, 0.6 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of fat. Its glycemic index is 15, which is low.

What to look for/how to use: Buy celery that is crisp with bright green leaves that aren’t wilted. Store celery in the refrigerator in a container or plastic bag. Avoid freezing it. Add chopped celery to tuna, chicken, or egg salads. Try your hand at some Cajun cooking by using the “holy trinity” — chopped celery, bell peppers, and onions — in sauces, soups, and stews. Revert back to childhood by filling celery with peanut butter and adding raisins to make “ants on a log.” Keep cut-up celery in the fridge for a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate snack that’s refreshing to eat any time.

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