Dark green and orange vegetables and fruits appear to be powerful protectors against illness. Spinach, kale, rapini, collard greens, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and peaches are good sources of beta-carotene, an antioxidant nutrient that might protect cells from damage caused by harmful free radical molecules. (Free radicals roam the body and damage the genetic material of cells, which may lead to cancer development.) Many also contain folate and vitamin C.
Scientists are learning that there’s more to fruits and vegetables than vitamins, minerals and fiber. They also contain thousands of phytochemicals, naturally occurring compounds that act as antioxidants and natural antibiotics. Experts believe that phytochemicals probably work together with vitamins and minerals in the food.
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Make sure you get at least five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Aim for a minimum of three fruits and three vegetables. Here are a few ways to get more “green” into your diet:
Spinach One-half cup (125 ml) of cooked spinach provides your full day’s requirement for vitamin A and offers plenty of folate. Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin C. One-half cup (125 ml) cooked has more nutrition than 1 cup (250 ml) raw because it contains 2 cups (500 ml) of leaves and heating makes the protein in spinach easier to break down. Steam, braise or stir-fry with a little garlic. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking.
Kale Just 1 cup (250 ml) of this member of the cabbage family provides more than twice the daily requirements for beta-carotene and vitamin C. Kale is also a good source of calcium and vitamin E, another important antioxidant. Steam or stir-fry this green with other vegetables, or throw kale into soup and simmer. Kale shrinks a lot during cooking; 3 cups (750 ml) raw will give you 1 cup (250 ml) cooked.
Collard greens In addition to plenty of vitamins and minerals, this vegetable contains natural sulfur compounds that may prevent certain cancers. Stir-fry collard greens. Once it’s cooked, add a dash of roasted sesame oil and a handful of cashews.
Beet greens The next time you buy fresh beets, save the greens and eat them, too. The green tops of root vegetables have more nutrition when it comes to vitamins and minerals than the root. These greens are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron. Prepare them as you would any green.
Swiss chard Here’s another great vegetable that provides calcium, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Use both the leaves and the stalks when cooking, but add the leaves at the end of cooking, as the stalks take longer to soften. Stir-fry Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic. Or add lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. It’s also great in pasta with a little olive oil and red pepper flakes.