Today’s Friday w/ Friends features Registered Dietician, Kristen Guilander! Kristen is a menu developer and a great resource for healthy living and eating. She has compiled a list of the most nutrient packed vegetables and shared the MOST AMAZING fall/winter Butternut Squash salad. We had it for dinner last night and it was divine. I hope her article educates and motivates you to incorporate these vegetables into your diet!
Vegetables are an important part of everyone’s diet, but let’s face it, most people are not getting the daily recommended amount of vegetables. This means that we are missing out on key vitamins and nutrients that are essential to our health. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended we consume 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily. As a dietitian, I see it all the time. People tend to gravitate more towards the convenient, less nutritious food because it’s easier but they don’t consider what that same food is doing to their health over time. Think about nutrients your body is losing out on over days, months and years for not consuming vitamin-rich foods. My recommendation is to try and consume at least one more serving of vegetables a day compared to what you are currently eating, whether it be at another meal or for an additional snack.
Here are some highly nutritious and accessible vegetables you can start incorporating in your daily diet.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are made up of many different vitamins and minerals such as: potassium, folic acid, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Tomatoes also contain important anti-inflammatory nutrients called carotenoids and bioflavonoids. One in particular is called lycopene which has been shown to have anti-cancer effects. Many studies have been done on lycopene and its effect on reducing the risk of certain cancers such as prostate and ovarian cancers.
Broccoli: Broccoli is best known for containing fiber, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K. It is also a good source of vitamin A, folate, iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and other phyto-nutrients. Many people know fiber helps regulate the GI tract and digestion, but what people may not know is that it can also help lower cholesterol levels. The soluble fiber in broccoli can even help maintain lower blood sugar levels as well. The Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron and helps build the immune system.
Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes consist of high amounts of Beta-Carotene which help give it the orange coloring. Beta-Carotene is an antioxidant that can help strengthen eyesight by converting in to Vitamin A in the body. It can also protect your skin against sun damage and boost immunity to disease. While they are “sweet” potatoes, their natural sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream, helping to better control the rise in blood sugar levels without causing it to spike too quickly when eaten in proper amounts.
Spinach: Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, have high Vitamin K levels which help with bone health and blood coagulation. Spinach is also a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta-Carotene, Manganese, Zinc, and Selenium. There is a compound found in spinach called oxalic acid. This will block the absorption of calcium and iron, but an easy way to fix this is to pair spinach with a food high in Vitamin C.
Butternut Squash: Butternut squash contains high levels of Beta-Carotene, potassium, and fiber. Potassium can help with relaxing muscle contractions, reduce swelling, and help control the activity of the kidneys. It also helps fight high blood pressure, which is one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease. Butternut squash is nutrient packed and provides a great naturally sweet flavor, all without containing a lot of calories. It can be found almost all year long but it is most common in the fall/winter months. This is why it is one of my favorite vegetables to start cooking with around this time. Try it in one of my favorite Butternut Squash Salad recipes below!
Butternut Squash Salad w/ Ultimate Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette
½ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
Crumbled feta cheese
6 cups winter salad greens (I used a spring mix with romaine)
1 small/medium butternut squash
2 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs maple syrup (I use a sugar-free syrup, so any kind you have will do)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Squash: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel squash, slice in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Dice into equal sized cubes (small or large depending on your own preference of size). Line a baking sheet with tin foil and coat with cooking spray. Place butternut squash cubes in a large bowl. Add oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice. Toss with your hands (or a spoon) until the squash is evenly coated. Spread onto the baking sheet and cook for 35 minutes, flipping once at the 20 minute mark.
Pecans: Place pecans in pan over medium heat for 4-5minutes, watching carefully so they do not burn.
Vinaigrette: Mix all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a bowl or dish of some sort. Once everything is combined, mix in olive oil while stirring at the same time to help emulsify the dressing.