Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vegetables You May As Well... Keep Eating

While waiting for my tea to steep several mornings ago, I like millions of others, turned to the internet. On Yahoo's homepage, I saw a headline, "Vegetables You May As Well Skip" (Amy Paturel, Self magazine, July 13, 2011). Wow, I thought. That is a bold headline at a time with record-breaking obesity rates and new governmental guidelines recommending more fruits and vegetables in the daily diet. I clicked on the headline and was directed to the article in Self Magazine.

I respect the author's good intentions, and concede that perhaps Self Magazine readers are the type who will accept her recommendations to eat the most nutrient-dense vegetables available. But I suspect that in the wider internet audience that there are more people: college students, people on low budgets, the unadventurous, and fast-food lovers, who will instead hear the advice as permission to stop eating pesky, worthless vegetables completely.

The first offender was celery. Its offense: low vitamin content. Its appeal: crunch, low calories, high water content. Celery is a convenient, high-fiber dip delivery system. Celery's crevice is the perfect place to fill with peanut butter. In soups, stews, and curries, celery is a flavor staple alongside onions and garlic. Yet the recommendation was to skip celery and eat carrots instead. True, carrots are loaded with beta-carotene. They are also tasty in dip. But carrots are higher in natural sugars than celery. Eating a variety of different colors is a healthy way of getting nutrients, and there is a reason dips are often served with both celery and carrots. They complement each other. Is there some reason we can't eat both?

The second offender: the cucumber. The offense: low vitamin content. The appeal: crunchy, refreshing, easy-to-find. The cucumber was the protagonist in a risque book comparing itself to a man (and coming out the winner). Though not as dark green as kale or nutrient-dense as spinach, cucumbers are not a waste of time. Their mild taste appeals to children. Spread with hummus or tossed into a salad, cucumbers add fiber and few calories. They are readily available, even found in convenience stores. People without access to whole natural food markets have no trouble buying them. As a snack, cucumbers are healthier than trans-fat laden crackers or chips. But the laughable alternative to cucumbers mentioned in this article was purslane. Go back and read that sentence again if you need to. Purslane.

Where cucumbers are abundant, purslane is the opposite. As an experiment, take a survey of the first five people you encounter, asking them to describe purslane. Could a majority correctly identify it as an exotic weed with smooth reddish stems, tiny alternate leaves and yellow flowers? I agree that purslane's omega 3's, Vitamin A and Vitamin C are superior. Realistically, the likelihood of my 18-year old son or his friends replacing cucumbers in their diets with purslane is nil. More than likely, he would eschew the cucumber at the salad bar and go for a bread stick instead.

The third, and perhaps least respected vegetable offender: iceberg lettuce. The offense: being the American cheese of vegetables, and maybe sinking the Titanic. The appeal: tasty on burgers and sandwiches, sold as salad in fast food joints and diners, recognizable. Ideally, Americans would all replace their iceberg lettuce with darker, healthier romaine. But I fear that after reading about iceberg's apparent lack of nutrients, Americans will choose a side of fries over a side salad. That is definitely not an improvement.

Advertising messages bombard us loudly and constantly to eat high-calorie, high-fat, salty, sugary, processed junk foods. My little blog voice is a whisper in comparison, but I would like to shout that EATING CELERY AND CUCUMBERS IS FINE!

Enjoy your celery, cucumbers and iceberg. Eat them with gusto as part of a diet rich in varied fruits and brightly colored vegetables. I am off to find a bunch (bushel? peck?) of purslane.

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