The beauty of seasonal and fresh raw vegetables

Above: Locally grown vegetables are available from farmer's markets across Ottawa. (PHOTO: ROCHON GARDENS)

As we make our way through the summer heat, no one really what to spend time in a hot kitchen, so this is a time of year when our family eats more and more salads and raw vegetables. This week I will look at the nutritional value of eating raw vegetables and all the health benefits that go with it. I will also look at the best ways of preparing vegetables and those for whom it might be advisable to eat them slightly cooked. The value of vegetables has been known throughout the centuries with many cultures using the juices to cleanse the body and help it overcome illness.

During the summer, the farmer’s market is my favourite place to go and buy vegetables not only do I find the displays so colourful and enticing, they are truly irresistible. I know that not only am I supporting local farmers but the vegetables that I am buying is seasonal and fresh, this means that the nutritional value of the vegetables is much higher than those vegetables that have been picked most likely in another country, shipped or flown and arrive packaged in our grocery stores several weeks later.   

When we cook vegetables by either boiling or roasting them, part of the nutrients in them is destroyed through the heat when baking or leach into the cooking water if you boil them, often leaving little behind for our bodies to use. When we eat raw vegetables all the nutrients intake and are readily available for our bodies to use for functions such as reducing inflammation and being a healthy source of fibre. Although vegetables are so good for us they are often relegated as side options when it comes to meal, when in fact they should be the main focus – this is why summer is a such a great time to be introducing more vegetables into your diet.  

Not only are the colours of fresh vegetables beautiful to look at but these colours indicate that they are full of different phytochemicals and antioxidants, and by incorporating all these different colours into your diet, this will provide support to your immune system. It will also reduce the free radical damage often caused by pollution and the general wear and tear of our body due to the ageing process.

The magic of vegetables continues, not only are they cholesterol free making them ideal for those that are looking to reduce their fat intake because of cholesterol and cardiovascular problems, but they are also a great source of food for the good bacteria in your gut. This, in turn, will increase your body’s capability of absorbing nutrients, therefore improving your general health. 

For those who are type two diabetics or just looking to stabilize your sugar levels, raw vegetables are the equivalent to the Holy Grail – they provide our bodies with long-lasting sugars, so no more sugar spikes but instead a steady stream of stable energy that will sustain you until your next meal, so no more brain fog or afternoon slumps of energy if you have a lunch loaded up with colourful raw vegetables!

Did you know that green vegetables are simply bursting with chlorophyll? thinking back to your science lessons, it is the plant’s method of converting the sun’s heat into energy – so you are pure energy, which I think is truly amazing! Another reason for sourcing fresh vegetables is that from the moment they are picked their energy content starts to fade away… another example of this is Vitamin C. When vitamin C is exposed to the air it immediately starts to break down. Tearing the leaves instead of cutting with a knife also reduces the loss of nutrients. This goes to show that by always prepping your vegetables ahead of time you might be missing out on some vital nutrients, however, there are times when prepping is better than not eating fresh vegetables at all. 

For people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome suddenly eating a lot of raw vegetables may cause your symptoms to flare up or for those who are simply not used to eating raw vegetables, this may place a huge strain on your digestive system. However, you can still maintain all the health benefits discussed by lightly steaming the vegetables and preserving the cooking water (which contains some of the vitamins and minerals) to be used in sauces and dips or kept in the refrigerator overnight and added to your morning smoothie or juice the next day.

This fennel radicchio grapefruit salad can accompany a barbeque or is great on its own!

I also find that children tend to enjoy eating crunch, fresh-cut vegetables instead of cooked vegetables, as these raw vegetables can be used as finger foods with dips making mealtimes more interesting and varied. Adding fruits and nuts is also a great way to make salads a little more interesting, why not try this fennel radicchio grapefruit salad is so lovely to eat on a hot summer’s evening and can even accompany a barbeque.

Before using any vegetable, I always give them a good clean with a vegetable scrubbing brush and water, which will get rid of most bacteria. If you are looking for something a little stronger, a simple solution of three parts water to one part vinegar works very too, making sure to rinse afterwards to remove the vinegar taste. 

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