After the three long, dark, cold months the spring is nearly here and is time to go green and strengthen our immune system. All greens are good for us. They are an excellent source of fibre, folate carotenoids and antioxidants. Spring greens provide some of the highest levels of vitamin K, iron, and phytonutrients that ward off chronic diseases. They provide you with a seriously useful amount of vitamin C, to support your immune system and detox. The leafy greens also contain natural compounds, such as sulforaphane and indoles. A body of evidence suggests these plant chemicals have a significant anti-cancer action, and anti-inflammatory properties, which could help protect against heart disease and stroke. And you want to make sure you’re getting plenty of all of those: Iron Deficiency Has Some Strange Effects for instance. Here are nine nutritional powerhouses to load up on while the season, short though it is, lasts.
Contrary to popular opinion, the common nettle is more than a pesky, stinging weed. It has — since ancient times — been an important source of food, fiber, and pharmaceuticals. Apart from the slight fact that even the very young plants sting, nettles are a wonderful ingredient to use in soups, pasta dishes, frittatas, basically used in any recipe that calls for spinach. Nettle greens are certainly worth the slight challenge involved in picking them, for they are rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, flavonoids, histamine, and serotonin—all the great chemicals one needs to reenergize after a cold winter and to combat Spring allergies. A quick blanching neutralizes their sting, and when cooked, nettles have a robust, almost meaty flavor. The leaves are high in calcium and iron, and studies have confirmed their effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory, a use that goes back to ancient Greece. You might be lucky enough to find foraged nettles at your local farmers’ market during the spring and early summer. They often grow in the same places where morels are gathered, so ask your local mushroom pickers, too.
Quite possibly one of the oldest cultivated plants around, fava beans are staples in nearly every international cuisine. High in fiber and iron, fava beans are protein powerhouses, with 13 grams per cup of cooked beans. The beans are very rich source of dietary fiber (66% per100g RDA) which acts as a bulk laxative. Dietary fiber helps to protect the colon mucosa by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon. According to botanist and herbalist James Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, fava beans also work to lower your cholesterol naturally and, he says, they even stimulate sexual desire.
Leafy lettuce greens not only taste better when grown locally and in season, but they could also be safer, too. Much of the lettuce sold in winter is grown in California, where lettuce fields are irrigated with water from the Colorado River. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado River water is contaminated with low levels of perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel known to harm thyroid function, and that perchlorate can be taken up inside lettuce plants. Any lettuce but iceberg is packed with antioxidants, so get those now from a local farmer who can tell you about any potential contamination sources from his or her water supplies.
Spring is the best time of year to eat spinach, a crop that loves warm days and cold, nearly frosty nights, which bring out its natural sugars. Spinach is low in fat and even lower in cholesterol, it is high in niacin and zinc, as well as protein, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. In addition to being a great source of vitamin C and folate, two nutrients that strengthen your immune system and ward off allergies, spinach is also rich in a compound called betaine, which has been found to boost exercise performance. And if you think only carrots can keep your eyesight healthy, think again. Spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness. In other word, it’s loaded with good things for every part of your body!
Asparagus ranks among the top 20 foods in regards to ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which measures vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content in relation to the caloric content. To earn a high ANDI rank, food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories. The imported, greenhouse-grown asparagus available year-round just can’t match the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden stalks available between February and June. A cup of asparagus contains 70 percent of your daily-recommended amount of vitamin K, which helps transport calcium to your bones, and 20 percent of your vitamin A, which helps your immune system. Asparagus is one of the best natural sources of folate. Adequate folate intake is extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy and adolescence. And there is another reason to love asparagus, eating it before your drink alcohol is known to ward off hangovers.
The radish is well-traveled and ancient, mentioned in historical Chinese annals as early as 2,700 B.C. Egyptians cultivated them even before building the pyramids. Often left to be nothing more than a rose-shaped garnish on your restaurant salad, radishes are extremely nutritious, containing nearly a third of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Cancer-fighting tip: Eat radishes with broccoli. Radishes contain an enzyme called myrosinase, which boosts your body’s absorption of the cancer-fighting compounds found in broccoli. Radishes can also regulate blood pressure, relieve congestion, and prevent respiratory problems such as asthma or bronchitis. They have antibacterial, antifungal, and detoxifying properties, and contain compounds that soothe rashes, dryness, and other skin disorders. And don’t neglect the leaves! Radish leaves contain more vitamin C, calcium and protein than radishes themselves. Toss the leaves into a pesto, stir-fry, or your next smoothie.
Arugula is a leafy green plant that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is a good dietary choice for a healthier body and keeping your mind clear and focused. Some of the health benefits of arugula include a lowered risk of cancer, healthy bones, and improved eyesight. It has antioxidant properties and is good for healthy skin. It also helps in strengthening the brain, improving metabolic functions, mineral absorption, and boosting the immune system. Arugula is beneficial for weight management as well. Tossing peppery arugula into your salads will keep them from getting too boring, and it provides you with a huge boost of magnesium, a mineral important for keeping your bones strong, your immune system healthy, and your muscles strong. Arugula also tastes great in early spring pestos, which normally use herbs that won’t be in season for a few more months.
Green Peas are one of the first vegetables to poke their heads out in spring, the season for them lasts, in some areas, just two weeks. Peas are one of the most nutritious leguminous vegetables rich in health benefiting phyto-nutrients, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants. They contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients. One of these phytonutrients – a polyphenol called coumestrol – has recently come to the forefront of research with respect to stomach cancer protection. The unique phytonutrients in green peas also provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Just one cup will provide you with an entire day’s worth of allergy-fighting vitamin C, and peas are one of the best sources of thiamin, or vitamin B1, a vitamin that boosts your mood and wards off depression.
If you’ve never had the experience of eating an artichoke, leaves, heart and all, you’re missing out on one of the true joys of spring. While artichokes may not be the easiest food to consume, the sheer volume of nutrients, minerals found in this extraordinary vegetable make eating them well worth it. Artichokes are packed with phytonutrients such as quercetin, rutin, gallic acid, and cynarin, all working to protect against many health risks including cancer, heart disease, liver dysfunction, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Delicious if you eat them alone (steam them and peel off the leaves, scraping off the meat with your teeth), artichokes actually do make everything else taste better. They contain a compound called cynarin, which stimulates taste bud receptors and has been found to make bland food more palatable. Artichokes are also used in complementary medicine to aid digestion. They’re rich in inulin, a prebiotic that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut.