We well remember eating at our mothers’ tables, knowing that we wouldn’t be excused from the table until we had eaten our vegetables. Consequently, from early childhood we were exposed to and developed a taste for a wide range of vegetables. In fact, when we were planning our first cookbook for people with diabetes while huddled in a hotel room in Boston, we both admitted that we couldn’t think of a single vegetable we didn’t like.
High in nutritional value, some vegetables are so low in carbohydrate and calorie content, many can be eaten liberally and not counted as an exchange in a diabetic food plan. The following vegetables are considered FREE:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Chicory (includes radicchio)
- Chinese (Napa) cabbage
But just because these vegetables are FREE, doesn’t mean they are chock full of nutrition. Like other vegetables, these “free” ones are high in vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Use them as part of the at least 5 servings of vegetables a day that all national health authorities recommend to promote good health and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and heart disease.
Vitamin A: Needed for healthy teeth, strong bones, healthy skin and epithelial cells (cells that line any opening to the body), and strong eyes and good night vision. Some researchers have found that vitamin A may help prevent some types of cancer and may help prevent cataracts. Although research on vitamin A and the eyes is limited, new data should be available later this year from the National Eye Institute. Good sources of vitamin A are carrots, sweet potato, spinach, and broccoli. Also containing vitamin A are collards, hot chile peppers, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes.
Vitamin E: Needed for formation of red blood cells and other tissues. Research is being conducted world-wide on vitamin E reducing the risk of heart disease; cataracts; and mouth, throat, and other types of cancers. Leafy green vegetables are your source of vitamin E.
Vitamin K: Needed for proper blood clotting. People taking Coumadin (an anticoagulant to help reduce clots from forming in the blood) need to follow their physician’s advice about eating foods high in vitamin K). Vegetables high in vitamin K are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage, collards, cucumber peel, endive, scallions, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley, spinach, turnip greens, and watercress. There is a moderate amount of vitamin K in asparagus, avocado, red cabbage, and green peas.
Vitamin C: Needed to maintain connective tissue and healthy bones and skin. There is remarkably little solid evidence can be found about vitamin C’s other health benefits, although some studies indicate that it helps avert heart attacks, strokes, and cataracts. Excellent sources are bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red cabbage, cauliflower, collards, hot chile peppers, mustard greens, okra, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, summer squash, sweet potato, tomato, and yellow snap beans.
Folate: A B-complex vitamin, folate is also referred to as folic acid or folacin. Recently we’ve been reading about it being linked to the prevention of birth defects (such as spina bifida), heart attacks, stroke, and colorectal cancer. All adult men and women need 400 mg of folate in their diet each day, which comes in any number of delicious vegetables. High sources are asparagus, avocado, broccoli, endive, mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, and yellow squash. Good sources are artichokes, beets, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leaf lettuce, Romaine lettuce, okra, red bell peppers, and sweet potatoes.
Fiber-the part of food that is not digested or absorbed by the body is of particular importance to people with diabetes. Fiber helps you feel full without overloading on calories. Eating more fiber on a daily basis may lead to an overall reduction in blood glucose levels, thereby possibly lowering the need of insulin or oral agents to control blood sugar. Vegetables, especially raw vegetables, are an excellent source of fiber. These include broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and zucchini. Eat the edible skins and seeds of vegetables-the skin of a baked potato or baked sweet potato and the seeds of a cucumber.
Ever heard of phytochemicals? A natural bioactive compound found in plant foods, phytochemicals work with nutrients and dietary fiber to protect against disease. Research studies suggest that phytochemicals may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cataracts, osteoporosis, and urinary tract infections. Pronounced “fight-o-chemicals,” they are usually related to plant pigments, so vegetables that are bright colors, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, and purple, generally contain the most phytochemicals. Shop with your eyes and eat brightly colored vegetables every day for maximum health benefits.
For maximum health benefits, remember that mother was right. Eat more vegetables!