Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Looking Ahead to Summer Salads

It is a beautiful spring day here finally. As late as it is in the year I have seen more snow that tulips (none) recently. But summer is coming and it is a great time to take advantage of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The Mill City Farmers Market opened for the season on Saturday and we are anxiously awaiting fresh rhubarb and strawberries. I've added my column for the Best of Times below and a summery salad that's full of antioxidants.

I've also added the link to my appearance on Showcase MN. I don't know how long my clip will be shown. http://www.showcaseminnesota.com/show/client_article.aspx?storyid=500822

Color Your Diet Healthy

Increasing the amount of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet has many health benefits. Chemical compounds called antioxidants are high in this brightly colored group of foods and more and more studies are finding a positive relationship between antioxidants and reduction in diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants also help us age gracefully. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber and low in calories and are such an important part of our diets that the USDA and the National Cancer Institute recommend 5 to 9 servings a day. In the summer when fruits and vegetables are at their peak, go to the farmer’s market and load up with the best and brightest local produce.

How Antioxidants Work

All cells need oxygen to function properly and this process, called oxidation, produces harmful by-products called free radicals. Environmental pollution and exposure to certain chemicals such as pesticides also creates free radicals. An excess of free radicals can lead to cell structure damage. Damaged cells and damaged DNA contribute to degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer and cataracts. Some studies have shown antioxidants to slow the effects of aging. The positive effects from antioxidants may result from their interaction with free radicals.

Some of the most powerful antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and the hundreds of phytochemicals that are found in plant foods. Several studies have proven people who eat fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants have a lower incidence of some diseases but no one has been able to pin down specific factors. It is possible that these nutrients have the most positive effect in combination, but that hasn’t been proven. That’s all the more reason to plan your meals using a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

At one point medical professionals were promoting dietary supplements as sources of beneficial antioxidants but this is no longer true. High doses of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and beta-carotene can be harmful and there is a risk of overdoses when supplements are taken. In addition, it is unclear to what degree the phytochemicals also present in fruits and vegetables contribute to good health. Researchers don’t feel that all the plant phytochemicals have even been identified and haven’t been able to determine specific amounts needed for benefits.

Add Color to Your Plate

Take advantage of the deepest colored fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle and brighten your dinner plate. Research shows that eating several brightly colored foods together boosts their impact. Fruits and vegetables with the most saturated colors are also the highest in phytochemicals. Refer to the following list and brighten your diet.

Green- Spinach and broccoli contain high amounts of antioxidants such as lutein and carotenoids that protect eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration. These vegetables and other green vegetables may also reduce cancer risk.

Blue/ purple –The color of blueberries, red cabbage and plums is created by anthocyanins, chemical compounds that protect against carcinogens and heart disease.

Red fruits and vegetables include tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, pomegranates and pink grapefruit. Lycopene and anthocyanins in these foods help fight heart disease and some types of cancer, including prostate cancer. Pomegranates are often in the news because they have the highest levels of antioxidants. Cooked tomatoes actually contain more lycopene so even canned tomatoes provide protection.

Orange / yellow include sweet potatoes, peaches, carrots, oranges and mangos and are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C. Beta- carotene is converted in the body to Vitamin A and is thought to boost the immune system. Vitamin C helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

Research shows that there is a definite relationship between diet and health- a more nutritious diet leads to better health. Eating a wide variety of foods provides essential nutrients that are the key to fighting off infection and boosting immunity and the most colorful fruits and vegetables can make the greatest difference.

Chicken and Strawberries Salad

Sweet berries at their peak of freshness and tender baby spinach leaves contribute lots of healthy antioxidants to this salad. Although I’ve used strawberries, blueberries and raspberries work equally well. Nutritious almonds have more fiber than any other nut and are rich in magnesium and vitamin E. I’ve added orange juice (and a little vitamin C) to the dressing because I like the sweetness it adds (and it reduces calories) but you can omit it and increase the olive oil by 1 tablespoon if you prefer.

Serves 2

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups baby spinach leaves
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 cups sliced strawberries
½ cup sliced celery
2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
2 green onions, chopped

Combine the vinegar, honey, orange juice, salt and pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake until the salt is dissolved. Add the olive oil and shake again. Chill the dressing until serving.

Combine the spinach leaves, chicken, strawberries, celery, almonds and green onions in a medium bowl. Add about half of the dressing and toss until well mixed. Serve any remaining dressing with the salad or save for another time.

Sidebar: On a busy night, the easiest dinner I know starts with a roasted chicken direct from the supermarket. I even serve it with refrigerated mashed potatoes! But a whole chicken is too much for the two of us. Use the remaining meat for this salad and you have another easy meal.

1 comment:

Sinclairs said...

Summer is a great time to cook salmon - on the grill or otherwise. Do you have any suggestions for a light summer salmon meal?

Thanks from Arizona!