Raw carrots lined up beside each other on a wooden table

7 Superfoods For Spring

(DougCookRD.com)

Raw carrots lined up beside each other on a wooden table

 

How often have you set out to make a change for the better, only to find that you’re back where you began? Studies show that most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions by about mid-February. As the saying goes, ‘people don’t plan to fail, but they fail to plan’. If you’ve lost a bit of momentum with your healthy eating goals, now is a good time to hit the reset button and ‘spring clean’ your eating habits.

 

There are a lot of great fruits and vegetables to be had; some are available year round like beets and carrots and others are best when they’re fresh and local like strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on trendy foods either; while carrots haven’t enjoyed the superfood spotlight like goji berries, they are without question, an inexpensive food with superfood powers.

 

With a little planning, you can easily include any of the foods below to make this spring a great time to get back on tract with healthy eating.

 

Go for these 7 superfoods for spring

Fennel

Nutrition

One cup (250 ml) of fennel is very low in calories, a mere 27 but packs a lot of blood pressure-lowering potassium; 360 mg. It also delivers 3 g of fiber which help to feed your gut bacteria. Like all plants, fennel has loads more health-promoting compounds beyond vitamins and minerals such as a class of polyphenols called flavonoids – rutin, quercitin, and kaempferol. One of the more exciting polyphenols is anethole, which is a potent anti-inflammatory ally.

 

Buying & storing

Look for large, tight bulbs that are white or pale green, avoid bulbs that have any signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. Check the fronds to ensure there are no signs of flower heads – a sign that the fennel has bolted and passed its optimum maturity; look at the root bottom, it should have very little browning and you should see a solid root end covering most of the bottom (like the root end of celery or romaine lettuce).

 

To store fennel, trim the fronds to two or three inches above the bulb (if not already done).  Wrap loosely in a plastic bag and store in the fridge for 5 days or 10 days if you’re getting fennel direct from the garden or farmer.

 

Fresh funnel bulbs on a wooden table

 

Carrots

Nutrition

Low in calories, carrots are an excellent source of beta & alpha carotene, some of which is converted in the body to vitamin A but about 1/3 of the population are ‘poor converters’ which is why it’s ideal to include foods that have preformed vitamin A (retinol) as well. Raw carrots have a unique phytonutrient that is lost during cooking: falcarinol; a pesticide that carrots naturally produce but when eaten by humans has been shown to have anti-cancer properties. It’s still a good idea to include cooked carrots too; cooking increases the absorption of alpha & beta carotene. Carrots also provide fiber & potassium.

 

Buying & storing

Look for firm, crisp carrots with a smooth, blemish-free exterior. Be wary of deep green “shoulders” just below the top which may indicate bitterness. Oversized carrots may have tough centres.

 

For fresh bunched carrots, immediately remove the leafy green tops. (They draw off moisture and vitamins from the edible root, and can cause wilting and toughening.) Store in plastic for up to three weeks in refrigerator crisper. You can buy topped Ontario carrots year-round, packed in clear plastic bags. Store, in original packaging, as you would bunching carrots.

 

Rhubarb

Nutrition

Rhubarb is unusual among vegetables in that it is very sour and slightly sweet at the same time Rhubarb is a source of calcium (120 mg per 1 cup or 250 ml serving), vitamins C & K and potassium; almost as much as a medium banana. It shouldn’t be a surprise that rhubarb, like other plant foods is also rich in antioxidant compounds such as anthocyanins (like strawberries and other berries), which are responsible for rhubarb’s red color and thought to contribute to the health benefits of other colorful fruits and vegetables. Rhubarb is also high in proanthocyanidins, also known as condensed tannins (like those in tea: white, green and black); these antioxidants are believed to be responsible for some of the health benefits of fruits, red wine and cocoa as well.

 

Buying & storing

Look for crisp, firm stalks. Colour may vary from various shades of green to deep ruby red. Greenhouse rhubarb has very small bright yellow-green leaves, rosier-coloured stalks, and milder flavour than that grown naturally outdoors. Wrap and refrigerate. Rhubarb can also be frozen if cleaned and cut into pieces or blanched and covered with a light syrup.

 

Fresh red rhubarb stacked on a table

 

Beets

Nutrition

One cup (250 mL) of cooked diced beets contains just 50 calories. Beets have a decent enough amount of folate and are a good source of potassium. Where beets have gotten a boost in superfood benefits is in their ability to lower blood pressure in what’s referred to as a clinically meaningful way, e.g. 4-10 mmHg (the points that are read either by the doctor when he or she does a blood pressure reading or those point with a home blood pressure cuff); in other words, eating more beets is a good strategy to help lower your blood pressure naturally. This is because beets are very high in nitrates that the body converts into nitric oxide, a gas that causes blood vessels to relax which allows blood to flow easier.

 

Buying & storing

Look for firm, small to medium-size beets (up to 3 inches in diameter.) The outside may be rough, but should be dry and taut. Loosely wrap in paper towel and keep in refrigerator crisper for up to one week. They can also be kept in a root cellar or other cool location.

 

Fresh beet root and beet juice in glasses on a table top

 

Spinach

Nutrition

Like carrots, spinach is an excellent source of beta-carotene, some of which is converted in the body to vitamin A.  One-cup (250 ml) of cooked spinach has a whopping 840 mg of potassium, the same amount as 2 medium bananas and 157 mg of magnesium to boot. The same one cup is also loaded with folate which is needed for the production of red blood cells. One of the more impression nutrients is lutein, another type of carotenoid [like beta carotene] that helps to reduce the leading, preventable cause of blindness in those over 50: macular degeneration. The brain loves lutein as well, so much so, that a lot of it ends up in there where it helps to reduce the risk for dementia.

 

Buying & storing

Shop for vivid, dark green spinach with firm leaves and stems. Avoid those with excessively thick, tough or woody stem ends. Smooth-leaf spinach is most often sold in bunches. Medium and Savoy varieties are more likely to be found loose or washed and partly stemmed in plastic packages. It’s relatively perishable and should be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator. It’s best eaten as soon as possible after buying.

 

Fresh raw spinach in a wooden bowl on a table top

 

Strawberries

Nutrition

Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, 85 mg per 1 cup (250 ml), potassium (235 mg) and fiber  (3 g) as well as being low in calories; a mere 50 calories. Like all berries, strawberries are loaded with a group of polyphenols like those found in olives and green tea; anthocyanins , ellagic acid and ellagi-tannins; they have received considerable attention, and have been linked to numerous health benefits including antimicrobial properties and helping to prevent cancer. Studies have found a relationship between berries, or berry anthocyanins, and improved cardiovascular health.

 

Buying & storing

Look for berries that are completely red with no white or green spots and have a sweet smell. Avoid crushed berries and be wary of berries packed in juice-stained containers. The size of the berries is not important. All strawberries large and small are equally sweet and juicy. Remove any damaged berries as soon as possible. Trim damaged areas and use in sauces, ice creams or in baking where appearance doesn’t matter.

 

 

Store berries in the refrigerator with hulls intact, unwashed, and lightly covered in a single layer. Use within three to six days. Just before serving, gently rinse under cold running water (avoid soaking because the strawberries will absorb water and lose flavour), gently pat dry with paper towels, and hull.

 

Fresh strawberries in a tin cup with a knife on a wooden table

 

Asparagus

Nutrition

For myself, spring is all about fresh asparagus. Asparagus is well known for its folate content, a very important nutrient for woman of child-bearing age as folate plays a role in preventing neural tube defects. Folate is also important for overall health as it supports red blood cell formation and is essential for healthy cell division and growth. It is for this reason that folate is thought to help reduce the risk for cancer. At a mere 26 calories (yes, you read that correctly, 26 calories!) per 8 spears, asparagus is good source of the aforementioned folate, potassium, beta-carotene, modest source of lutein, and vitamin K1. Folate also plays a big role in improving and maintaining healthy moods due to its role in neurotransmitter metabolism.

 

Buying & storing

Look for straight, crisp spears with green or purple tips with tight heads. It’s freshness, not size, that’s important. One pound (500 g) makes from two to four servings, depending on use. Although best eaten fresh, asparagus can be refrigerated for two or three days. Wrap stem ends in damp paper towels, then cover entire bunch with plastic wrap. Or stand straight up in a jug of water.

 

Fresh asparagus on a wooden table

Write a comment