Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that spring is finally here. The days are getting longer, Park Avenue is in full bloom, and life is good. The mild temperatures, increased sunlight, and the annual renewal of nature have the power to energize us all.
The new growth of spring offers the very best foods for health. Scientific research is now focusing on how the color pigments of plants can have benefits for our health. The color pigments are referred to as phytochemicals, from the Greek word for plant, “phyto.” Nature seems to have a reason for everything and that is true for phytochemicals as well. These “power molecules,” as I call them, protect the plant from UV radiation in sunlight, fight off insects by scent, or attract insects by color; in short, the phytochemicals enable the plant to survive.
In the case of fruits, scores of power molecules are found in the skin of the fruit. These are formed to protect the inner fruit from sunlight damage. This is why the skin of apples is colored more deeply in areas facing the sun, and also why different apples on the same tree exhibit different shades of color. The skin color is a concentration of power molecules that protect the inside of the fruit. In other words the power molecules are actually the apples’ natural sunscreen!
Recent studies have linked a reduction in risk for mental decline in those who eat an apple a day. Moral: Eat your fruit with the skin intact.
- Apples: All varieties are high in antioxidant vitamins and fiber but red delicious has the most
- Berries: High concentrations of vitamin C and E. Blueberries have resverarrol, the protective substance of red wine.
- Melon: High antioxidant vitamins.
- Papaya & Mango: Have high amounts of the vitamins and minerals.
- Kiwi, nectarines, and peaches: Originally from China, these fruits are a reversal of the rule that phytochemicals are concentrated in the skin; in these they are in the flesh of the fruit.
- Cherries: Studies show that eating cherries minimizes muscle soreness after exercise.
Two power molecules with unusual names - lutein and zeaxanthin - are found in high concentration in leafy plants. They protect the chloroplast (think of the chloroplast as the heart of the plant) from damage from blue light. They protect our eyes from damage. As we age, our eyes are vulnerable to cataracts and macular degeneration. The protective powers of lutein and zeaxanthin were first suspected when research found that they are present within high concentration in our eyes. In fact, the concentrations in the eye of lutein and zeaxanthin are one hundred times that of the blood. They act to protect our eyes from damage by UV light from the sun by actually absorbing short wave light which is toxic to the retina. Think of them as internal sunglasses. The best way to get these vision protectors is to eat green leafy vegetables daily.
To add variety to your meals, venture into unknown territory with some of the following leafy green vegetables:
- Arugula: If you are a gardener, try growing arugula. It is frost resistant and grows rapidly.
- Chicory: It comes in a variety of colors from green to red. Chicory is tart, use it as an accent in salad.
- Dandelions: Contain high amounts of vitamins A,C, and K. Dandelions are a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin for vision.
- Mustard greens: They contain vitamins C, A, K, and folate. Mustard greens should he on the list of foods for pregnant women. High amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Purslane: This unfamiliar vegetable is native to Greece and it is very healthy. It has four times the amount of omega-3 fat as spinach.
- Swiss chard: Red or green varieties are wonderful.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes have high amounts of lycopene, which protects against cancer. As the great decorator Billy Baldwin noted, “Every room should have a little red,’ and the same is true for salad.
- Hibiscus: This beautiful flower is edible. Red, pink, orange, and white all are high in vitamin C and E and contain flavonoids. A salad everyone loves is watercress and red hibiscus with red raspberry vinegar. Hibiscus tea, made from the dried leaves, is caffeine free and reduces blood pressure.
Enjoy the beautiful weather and eat for health.
By Jana Klauer