Back to basics


First Posted: 1/13/2013

The New Year is a time for many opportunities. Taking a look at our family’s food choices and our own is a great beginning to a new year. Do we fill half of our lunch and dinner plates with fruits and vegetables? If so, then great. If not, then why not?

Our bodies benefit much from eating fruits and vegetables. They ward off many chronic diseases and improve the quality of our lives by fighting something called free radicals.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that are naturally formed when you exercise and when your body converts food into energy. Your body can also be exposed to free radicals from a variety of environmental sources, such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress, a process that can trigger cell damage. Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Most of us are probably creating more free radicals because of eating and rather than exercising in large amounts. So how do we fight these free radicals off? Fruits and vegetables naturally have compounds called phytochemicals, or simple plant chemicals. I refer to these often in this column as getting back to basics with fruits and vegetables have many benefits.

Each day our bodies, large and small need a variety of vegetables. Deep green, red orange, leafy and in lesser quantities, starchy vegetables like corn and peas. Some may say, I don’t have time, or they are too costly to buy. Some may say, I’ll take it in a pill form. The recommendation is to get it from the natural source, food. Food gives us satiety, variety, and a break from boredom. January is a great month to dust off those old recipes for soups, stews and roasted vegetables all which contain vegetables. January is also a great month to taste the sweetness of fresh fruit. Many can be baked to fill the house with their wonderful aromas.

Let’s take a look next at the cost of fruits and vegetables. First, choose what’s in season. Cabbage, carrots, celery and onions make a great stir-fry with loaded phytochemicals. Bananas, oranges and pears can range from $ .69 cents per pound to $1.49. Compare your family’s serving size of snack crackers, chips and donuts with the cost of one piece of fruit. How do they measure up?

Get back to basics this January by getting fruits and vegetables back on your plate. Make them half of your plate. To begin, try this easy to make stir fry. Make a double batch and enjoy the planned leftovers for lunch the next day.

Stir Fry Winter Vegetables

1 cup diced cabbage

1 cup peeled and sliced fresh carrot

1 cup sliced celery

1cup chopped green pepper

1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth

2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary and thyme or 2 tsp of dried rosemary and thyme

Fresh ground pepper

Spray pan with non cooking spray. Heat on low, add cabbage, carrot, celery, green pepper and broth. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add rosemary, thyme and pepper. Heat for 5 more minutes. Enjoy!

Mary R. Ehret, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is with Penn State Cooperative Extension, Luzerne County, 16 Luzerne Ave., West Pittston, Pa., 18643. (570) 825-1701/602-0600. Fax (570) 825-1709. mre2@psu.edu.

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