The many varieties of leafy greens, summer and winter squash, and various mushrooms have grown in popularity due to their high nutrient density and growing availability.
Leafy greens are packed with fiber along with vitamins, minerals, and plant-based substances, such as chlorophyll, which alkalinizes the blood, and other phytonutrients that help protect the heart and help prevent diabetes and cancer. The USDA recommends eating one-half cup of green leafy vegetables each day to prevent nutrient deficiencies and serious illnesses.
Greens typically fall into two basic categories: salad and cooking.
• Salad greens are more fragile and include all of the lettuces and tender greens including arugula, escarole, endive, and watercress
• Darker, heartier greens that taste better cooked, and are thicker and heavier, include beet greens, chard, collards, kale, mustard, and turnip greens. These greens may be used raw, especially when they are young or baby greens. When mature, these greens are best prepared by steaming or stir-frying.
• Kale is a good starter green for people looking to go beyond salad greens due to its mild taste and versatility.
Squash are classified as either summer or winter varieties. Summer squash includes zucchini, sunburst, and yellow crookneck varieties. While classified as “summer” due to its abundance in the US during that time, it is customarily available year-round. Summer squash has skin and seeds that are soft and easily eaten raw or cooked. In addition to providing important carotenoids, summer squash is also ranked among the top three sources for lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin (three other health-supportive carotenoids). Summer squash is also a good source of vitamin C.
Winter squashes include acorn, butternut, buttercup, delicata, Hubbard, kabocha, pumpkins, turban, sweet dumpling, and spaghetti squash, among others. They are one of the richest sources of plant-based anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega 3s and beta-carotene, which are important for a strong immune system to help protect against colds and flu.
Winter squash has tough skin and seeds that are removed before cooking.
• The seeds may be roasted and seasoned like pumpkin seeds, but are not edible raw.
• Winter squash may be baked, steamed, or added to stir-fries. It can be pureed after cooking and added to thicken a soup or served as a side dish.
• Deep yellow winter squashes such as acorn and butternut are excellent sources of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene (beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body). Even though they have a creamy texture, winter squashes have no fat.
• Spaghetti squash gets its name because after cooking, the flesh can be lifted out with a fork and resembles strands of spaghetti.
Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and other minerals, B vitamins, Vitamin D, and beta-glucans.
- Button or white mushrooms are the most common type and are available year-round. Their flavor is mild and they can be eaten fresh or cooked.
- Crimini mushrooms are also known as Golden Italian and Italian Brown. They have a rich, meaty flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked in any recipe in place of button mushrooms.
- Enoki mushrooms have tiny heads and long stems. They are crisp with a mild, almost fruity, flavor. They can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked in soups or stir-fries.
- Oyster mushrooms look and taste similar to their name. They have a soft texture that becomes more delicate when cooked. They are not usually eaten fresh.
- Shiitake mushrooms are sold either fresh or dried. Fresh shiitakes are round and tan with a slightly pointed cap. They are succulent and meaty. The ones with the most aroma also have the most flavor. Shiitake are eaten fresh or used in many dishes including soups and stir-fries. Dried shiitake can be soaked in water before cooking. The water can be used as a stock for sauce. Japanese medicine has identified many healing properties for shiitake mushrooms; many of these uses are now being substantiated by western medical researchers.
- Portabella mushrooms are large, firm, and meaty. They lend themselves well to grilling and are a common meat substitute in vegetarian entrees.
Why This Matters:
Dark leafy greens are touted as a “super food” providing many essential nutrients. Studies show that incorporating greens into one’s diet can be beneficial so consumers are looking to find greens that suit their palate. The most commonly requested “green super food” is Kale, which can be consume raw or cooked.
There are many varieties of squash; especially winter squash which are one of the richest sources of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Mushrooms are excellent sources of nutrients, including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and other minerals, B vitamins, vitamin D and beta-glucans. They can be a nutrient rich, filling, yet low calorie food for people wishing to manage their weight.