Nutrition

Fresh and healthy springtime vegetables

Last updated: Apr 01, 2017

It’s probably not surprising that Americans are not eating enough vegetables. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, Americans in all age-groups eat far less vegetables than recommended. The Dietary Guidelines encourages increasing total vegetable intake and the variety of vegetables consumed to promote overall health.1

Back in the days before grocery stores, people were only able to enjoy fresh vegetables in season. After a long winter without vegetables, everyone eagerly looked forward to the first fresh vegetables in Spring. Enjoy these 4 nutrition-packed Spring vegetables to help chase away the Winter doldrums and add more nutrition to your daily food choices:

Asparagus. Green, white, or purple asparagus is eagerly anticipated in the Spring. Like all vegetables, asparagus contains no saturated fat or cholesterol that can increase risk of cardiovascular disease. Asparagus is a good source of vitamin C, folate, and vitamin A.  Asparagus also contains phytonutrients that help support the immune system and possibly decrease inflammation that can lead to cancer.2 Choose thinner stalks with dry, tight tips and avoid stalks that are wilted or limp. Wrap the ends of the stalks in a wet paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.3 Sauté fresh asparagus in chicken or vegetable broth for 3-5 minutes to help preserve nutrients. Toss sautéed asparagus in salads, pasta recipes, or add to scrambled eggs.

Fiddlehead ferns are named for the tightly curled fronds of the ostrich fern and grow wild throughout the northeastern United States. Look for a brown, papery covering on the uncoiled fern in clusters of 3-12. If you harvest fiddleheads locally, be sure you’re choosing ostrich ferns because not all ferns are edible; in fact bracken ferns are carcinogenic and should not be consumed. Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamin B2 and B3, copper, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin C and manganese.4 Fiddleheads are best used as soon as possible after purchase, but can be stored tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Simmer fiddleheads for 15 minutes or steam for 10-12 minutes before adding to salads or serving as a side-dish.5

Rhubarb. The deep-red colored stalk and bright green rhubarb leaves are a favorite Spring vegetable grown in home gardens or purchased at the grocery store. Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin C and calcium, but because the stalks are so tart, rhubarb is often prepared with sugar.6 Choose dark red stalks that are not wilted or limp for the sweetest flavor.7 To reduce the amount of added sugar, pair rhubarb with sweet fruit like strawberries or raspberries. Only eat the stalks; the leaves are toxic and can cause breathing problems, burning in the mouth and throat, seizures, stomach pain, or kidney failure.8

Mustard greens. There is a wide variety of dark green leafy vegetables available, and mustard greens are one of the favorites with a peppery, bright flavor. Mustard greens, a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, contain high amounts of phytochemicals that help reduce risk of cancer and are excellent sources of vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin E, and iron; and good sources of copper, vitamin B2, manganese, protein, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and phosphorus.9 Look for dark green leaves without any yellow, brown, or white spots. Wrap unwashed mustard greens in paper towels and store loosely in plastic bags in the lower part of the refrigerator in the high-humidity bin for up to 5 days. Wash thoroughly under cold water before cooking. While traditionally mustard greens are boiled, you’ll preserve more nutrients by sautéing chopped mustard greens in vegetable or chicken broth for 5 minutes.10 You can also toss uncooked, chopped mustard greens into vegetable or pasta salads for a bright kick of flavor.

References:

  1. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/ 
  2. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Asparagus. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=12
  3. Fruits & Veggies More Matters. Asparagus. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/asparagus
  4. Fruits & Veggies More Matters. Fiddlehead Ferns. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/fiddlehead-ferns-nutrition-selection-storage
  5. The University of Maine. Facts on Fiddleheads. https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4198e/ Updated 2013. Accessed 3-26-17.
  6. The University of Maine. Rhubarb. https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4266e/ Updated 2007. Accessed 3-26-17
  7. Fruits & Veggies More Matters. Rhubarb. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/rhubarb
  8. Oregon State University Extension Service. Are Rhubarb Leaves Safe to Eat? http://extension.oregonstate.edu/question-of-the-week/are-rhubarb-leaves-toxic Accessed 3-26-17.
  9. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Mustard Greens. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=93 Accessed 3-28-17
  10. Fruits & Veggies More Matters. Mustard Greens. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/mustard-greens-nutrition-selection-storage Accessed 3-25-17

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