This is a good year for flowers in my neighbourhood. Pots and baskets are brimming with pink, purple, yellow and crimson petals.
I can’t resist flowers or watching things grow. Here’s where I note that “Garden” is my middle name, or my “first” last name, anyway.
Have you taken the opportunity to admire the blooming outdoor plants and green foliage at this time of the year? The same pigments, or natural colourants, in flowers are responsible for many of the health benefits of colourful fruits and vegetables. They beautify our plates, but perhaps more importantly, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help us stay healthier in the long run.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in “phytochemicals” (plant chemicals) that have been shown to help fight against cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. For example, tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon get their rosy colour from a pigment known as “lycopene.” This antioxidant pigment helps protect against prostate and other types of cancer.
“Anthocyanins” provide colour to many purple, blue or red fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, red and purple grapes, raspberries, cranberries, red onions, strawberries, red cabbage and red apples. These also contain antioxidant pigments that help protect cells from damage. Eating more foods containing anthocyanins may help prevent hardening of blood vessels and certain types of cancer.
The rainbow of vegetables available provides fibre, fluid, vitamins and minerals. Are you meeting the daily goal for two cups of fruit and 2-1/2 cups of vegetables? Try these 10 tips from MyPlate, the current national nutrition guidelines, to fill at least one-fourth of your plate with vegetables more often:
- Discover fast ways to cook. Cook fresh or frozen vegetables in the microwave for a quick-and-easy dish to add to any meal. Steam green beans, carrots or broccoli in a bowl with a small amount of water in the microwave for a quick side dish.
- Be ahead of the game. Cut up a batch of bell peppers, carrots or broccoli. Prepackage them to use when time is limited. You can enjoy them on a salad, with a hummus dip or in a veggie wrap.
- Choose vegetables rich in colour. Brighten your plate with vegetables that are red, orange or dark green. They are full of vitamins and minerals. Try acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes or collard greens. They not only taste great but are good for you, too.
- Check the freezer aisle. Frozen vegetables are quick and easy to use and are just as nutritious as fresh veggies. Try adding frozen corn, peas, green beans or spinach to your favourite dish. Look for frozen vegetables without added sauces, gravies, butter or cream.
- Stock up on veggies. Canned vegetables and pulses are a great addition to any meal, so keep on hand canned tomatoes, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, mushrooms and beets. Select those labelled as “reduced sodium,” “low sodium” or “no salt added.”
- Make your garden salad glow with colour. Brighten your salad by using colourful vegetables such as black beans, sliced red bell peppers, shredded radishes, chopped red cabbage, carrots or watercress. Your salad will not only look good but taste good, too.
- Sip on some vegetable soup. Heat it and eat it. Try tomato, butternut squash or garden vegetable soup. Look for reduced- or low-sodium soups. Make your own soups with a low-sodium broth and your favourite vegetables.
- Eat veggies while you’re out. If dinner is away from home, no need to worry. When ordering, ask for an extra side of vegetables or side salad instead of the typical fried side dish. Ask for toppings and dressings on the side.
- Savour the flavour of seasonal vegetables. Buy vegetables that are in season for maximum flavour at a lower cost. Check your local supermarket specials for the best in-season buys, or visit your local farmers’ market.
- Try something new. Choose a new vegetable that you’ve never tried. Zucchini soon will be prolific in gardens. Try some grilled zucchini and squash as a side dish for summertime meals.
Simply Grilled Veggies
- 1 medium zucchini (fresh)
- 1 medium yellow squash (fresh)
- 1 medium red bell pepper (optional)
- 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
- Pinch of salt
Preheat grill to medium heat. Wash the pepper, zucchini and yellow squash thoroughly; cut lengthwise into halves. Remove the seeds and membrane from the pepper. In a large bowl or edged baking pan, lightly brush squash, zucchini and red pepper with 1/2 tbsp. olive oil. Let stand for five to 10 minutes. Grill for six to eight minutes each side. Remove from grill and slice into 1/2-inch slices. Add a pinch of sea salt to taste.