Spring into Health

Spring is the perfect time of year to rejuvenate your health and re-energize your body.  Take a moment to step outdoors and notice the leaves beginning to bud on the trees, the bright flowers sprouting, and the many fresh vegetables that are coming into season.  It’s time to step back from the hearty root vegetables that have provided us with warmth and comfort from the cold, rainy winter days.  The fruits and vegetables coming into season are light and fresh, which is what the body needs to awaken and energize itself.

As we move into the warmer spring weather, we tend to crave lighter fare such as fresh salads, light soups, a colorful mix of sautéed vegetables, and fruit salads.  Asparagus, arugula, artichoke, leeks, peas, radishes, green onions, Swiss chard, beets, strawberries, apricots, and mint are a few of the fruits and vegetables that are abundant in spring.  What do all of these have in common?  Many of these various vegetables help to supply energy to the body and help to move stagnant energy.  This helps to revitalize your digestion, aids your liver in detoxifying chemicals, preservatives, and pesticides, along with keeping the immune system strong.  While these are high in nutrients including vitamins and/or minerals such as A and C, folate, fiber, iron, calcium, and potassium, they also provide vibrancy to your plate and a pungent flavor to your taste buds.  Have you tasted salad greens such as mizuna, dandelion greens, or watercress without a dressing and noticed a spicy, pungent, bitter taste?  This is how a plant protects itself from insects, fungi, chemicals, or other organisms that may harm the plant.  The plant secretes bitter components upon injury to protect them, and it is these components that are high in phytochemicals (health enhancing compounds in plants, for example lycopene in tomatoes) that are beneficial to us as we consume these leafy greens.

What is the best way to incorporate several of these vegetables into your diet?  Are they beneficial raw, do they retain their vitamins/minerals upon cooking, should they be cooked, and if so, for how long?  With your lunch or dinner, why not start the meal with a fresh salad of mixed greens with sliced radishes, shredded carrots and beets, and chopped sugar snap peas tossed with a light vinaigrette such as olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Having a raw salad optimizes the phytochemicals from the greens, while a bit of oil in the dressing helps to assimilate the fat-soluble nutrients. Minerals such as calcium and iron (found in kale and collard greens) are not lost upon cooking and work great in stir fries and soups.  Lightly sautéing or steaming vegetables for a few minutes helps to retain many of the nutrients, while also keeping a crisp bite to the veggies.

As you take the steps to spring into health, perhaps after your walk around the neighborhood inhaling the scents of spring on a leisurely Saturday or after a visit from your local farmer’s market, how about putting together a crisp, fresh salad to have along side a veggie filled frittata.

Going Vegetarian?

How many of you have thought of going vegetarian or considered eating vegetarian for a day, as in Meatless Mondays but don’t know where to start? Beans are a great way to start with hundreds of varieties to choose from! Black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, white beans, along with lentils and many others provide plenty of fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar stable and satisfy your hunger throughout the day.

Perhaps you are considering vegetarianism but are concerned with protein. Do beans provide enough? How much do I need in a day? Many people think they may not get enough protein but may actually be getting too much. In order to determine your protein requirements for the day, you take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by 0.8 grams. For instance, a 120 pound women requires 44 grams of protein a day, (120 # / 2.2 = 54.5 kg * 0.8 = 44 g), while a 160 pound male needs 58 g of protein a day. Other considerations may be a factor including your physical activity level, age, and your overall health.

Here is a quick and easy recipe using beluga lentils. At the time, I didn’t have any tomatoes or red bell pepper to add but feel free to experiment with the ingredients and let me know what you like best. If you like cheese, a sprinkle of feta would go well or if you are dairy free, try nutritional yeast flakes and see what you like!

  •  1 ½ cups cooked beluga lentils
  • 2 cans quartered artichokes, rinsed & drained, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 leaves Swiss chard, rinsed and chopped
  • Brown rice vinegar, to taste
  • Sea salt & pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, stir to combine, and enjoy!