Natural selection - choosing your super veggies

Vegetables have enjoyed a renaissance in the last couple of years with people packing their plates with them, and switching on to the benefits of green juicing, supplementing and so on.

‘If it is green it is good’ is the usual mantra. But are all vegetables created equal? The answer is no. Time to check out the super veggies (and how best to eat them).

If you’re looking for an eating strategy that packs power, nutritional value and a host of benefits into every bite, you’ll want to get into the super veggies. What makes them super? They’re low in fat, sugar and salt and provide lots of soluble fibre, nutrients, vitamins and health-boosting phytochemicals. Even better – not a drop of guilt should you over-indulge.

Consider that calorie for calorie, leafy greens deliver more nutrients than just about any other food on the planet. Loaded with fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, leafy greens stock your body with the artillery needed to fight off potential killers like heart disease and cancer. Simply put: leafs benefit virtually every cell you’ve got.

Want to lower your cancer risk? Put the cruciferous greens, like kale, broccoli and bok choy, on your shopping list. Research suggests cruciferous vegetables have the ability to inhibit the growth of some types of cancer cells and even stop others by reducing the production of free radicals.

Green veggies are always a good bet but don’t forget about the orange and red veggies too. Follow the 5 A DAY rule, based on advice from the World Health Organisation, which recommends eating a minimum of 400 grams of vegetables and fruit a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The 5 A DAY message highlights the health benefits of getting five 80-gram portions of fruit and vegetables daily. (That’s five portions of fruit and vegetables in total, not five portions of each.)

Top seven picks

The most important thing about the super vegetables is that they have significantly higher nutrient levels than the others. I’ve listed my top seven picks below, and you can check the sidebar overleaf to see exactly how the nutrients and vitamins they provide will benefit you. As the table shows, different nutrients and vitamins perform different functions and will boost different body systems, so be sure to balance your daily intake accordingly.

Kale has a huge presence of vitamins A, C, K, B1 and B12. It also has good levels of calcium, copper and protein.

Wheatgrass has high levels of protein and potassium, and is a good source of dietary fibre, iron, zinc and copper. It is packed with vitamins A, C, K, B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6.

Spinach is nutrient-rich with good levels of protein, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and copper. It boosts your body with the exact same vitamins as wheatgrass.

Edamame beans are a good source of dietary fibre, protein, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. These beans are also packed with vitamins K, B1 and B9.

Broccoli is a very good source of dietary fibre, vitamins A, C, K, B6 and B9 and potassium. It also has good levels of protein, vitamins B1, B2 and B5, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.

Pumpkin is a very good source of dietary fibre, vitamins A, C and B2, potassium and copper. It has good levels of vitamins B1, B3, B6 and B9, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.

Kidney beans are a very good source of dietary fibre, protein, vitamin B9, iron, phosphorus, copper and manganese.

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Getting your five a day

As interesting as it is to find out how content-rich the super veggies are, it’s essential to remember that these nutritional values will change with any type of processing. Be aware that nutrients are at their most present and functional when vegetables are in their natural state.

With this in mind, choose fresh not frozen or processed, and find out the best way to prepare your vegetables. For example, steaming or wilting is the way to go – if you boil a vegetable for even just a few minutes, the nutrients will be burned away. Eat raw when you can, and buy a juicer that operates at a slow RPM (revolutions per minute), otherwise a lot of the vegetable nutrients will be left in the pulp.

It is always important to check the quality of the handling of the vegetables you buy. For example, whether they are sprayed with pesticides and what the shelf life is.

With the abundance of selection, low cost and accessibility of at least reasonable quality vegetables in Hong Kong, getting our recommended quota of veggies is easy and can actually be a lot of fun. You can toss them into virtually any meal to boost nutrition, so don’t wait until dinner – start your day with them. While a vegetable hash makes for a wonderfully healthy breakfast, many of you will find a vegetable shake or juice easier to stomach.

Vegetable shakes can be absolutely delicious, especially when you get some fruit in there. And for an easy added boost, try mixing in a green powder supplement. Research suggests that a two-teaspoon serving of green powder offers up to 81 of the vital ingredients our body needs every day. You get all the vitamins and minerals of a multivitamin pill but with added nutrients, such as probiotics, prebiotics, detoxification nutrients and antioxidants.

The more vegetables you eat and the better you learn to prepare/ cook them, the more you’ll enjoy them. But if veggies are really not your thing (and in my opinion there is still no way to make Brussels sprouts taste good), cheat. Take a green powder supplement – it’s a super vegetable on steroids.

Jamie McGregor is a personal trainer with Perun Fitness, which runs classes in Tung Chung and South Lantau. You can call him on 6443 6597, or visit www.perunfitness.com.