Thursday, January 2, 2014

Don’t Judge a Vegetable By Its Lack of Color

Eat the rainbow.” You’ve heard nutrition professionals say it over and over again when advising the public about making healthy choices in produce. What they’re really emphasizing is variety—it is best to eat an array of colors in order to maximize nutrient intake. But, researchers are beginning to find that white vegetables often go overlooked, and color may not be the only indicator of nutritional quality. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recognizes two vegetable subcategories on the basis of color—green and red/orange—no distinction is given to white vegetables, even though they also appear to play an important role in the phytochemical rainbow.
White veggies have health benefits, too. In June 2012, a group of scientists met at Purdue University to address the common misconceptions and fallacies surrounding white vegetables. The scientists concluded that increasing the intake of white vegetables such as cauliflower, kohlrabi, onions, white mushrooms, and white potatoes can notably increase the consumption of key nutrients lacking in the American diet, such as potassium, magnesium and fiber. Not only that, intake of white vegetables has been linked to a variety of health benefits, ranging from reduced inflammation and “bad” cholesterol levels to promoting heart health and cancer protection.

Potatoes in particular. Many misguided efforts to reduce the consumption of “white foods”—such as white bread and white sugar—in recent years have given potatoes a bad name. However, potatoes should not be relegated to a category of low-nutrient foods. Potatoes, the most popular American vegetable, serves as an important source of vegetable intake as a whole. And when they are heated and cooled, such as in potato salad, potatoes provide a good source of resistant starch, a form of fiber that can aid in weight and blood sugar control. The humble potato (along with beans) gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck when it comes to potassium and fiber content compared to dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables, according to a study published in May of 2013. However, potatoes are moderately high in carbohydrates (1 small baked potato has 29 grams, about the same amount found in a medium bagel half), so should be consumed in moderation.


White Hot Vegetables

Add some of these white vegetables to your repertoire and reap the benefits of a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals.

White Vegetables
Culinary Suggestions
Star Nutrients
Health Benefits*
Roast, boil, steam or sauté as a side dish or entrée. Enjoy raw as an appetizer or in salads
Fiber, vitamins C and K, glucosinates
May help protect against cancer by lowering inflammation levels and boosting immune function
Add to soups, pastas, marinades, dressings, grains, and vegetables
Allicin, quercetin, organosulfur compounds
Has been shown to lower inflammation, oxidative stress, cholesterol, and blood pressure in some studies
Use in Asian and Indian sauces, or in beverages and baked goods
Gingerol, beta-carotene, caffeic acid
Exhibits antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial effects
Jerusalem Artichokes
Bake, steam, roast, sauté, or mash as a side dish
Vitamins C and K, potassium, and iron
May help boost immune function
Eat raw as a snack, slice into salads, or sauté in stir-fries
Vitamin C and fiber
May help boost immune function
Slice, dice, or grate into salads; steam or boil as a side dish
Potassium, vitamin C, glucosinates, fiber
May help lower blood pressure, boost immune function, and help protect against cancer
Use as a flavoring for many dishes including salads, soups, side dishes, casseroles, sauces, and dips.
Quercetin, organosulfur compounds, vitamin C
May help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and help protect against cancer
Roast or cook as a side dish or slice in soups, casseroles, or stews
Vitamin C, fiber, falcarinol
Exhibits anti-clotting benefits and may help to protect against cancer
Bake, steam, roast, sauté, or mash as a side dish; add to soups, casseroles or salads
Fiber, vitamin C, Glucosinates
May help protect against cancer by lowering inflammation levels and boosting immune function
White Corn
Boil or eat roasted on the cob as a side dish; add to soups and salads
Thiamin, folate, vitamin B 6
May protect against heart disease and exhibits anti-inflammatory properties
White Mushrooms
Eat fresh as an appetizer or in salads, add to soups and grain dishes, or sauté
Riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, copper, selenium, vitamin D (in UV-treated only)
May aid in cancer prevention, autoimmune disease protection, immune defense; shown to maintain healthy bones, teeth, and muscles
White Potatoes
Bake, steam, roast, sauté, or mash as a side dish; add to soups and casseroles
Vitamin B6 and C, fiber
May boost immune function and help to protect against cardiovascular disease

*Studies on health benefits based on preliminary research; additional research may be needed to further understand the role these vegetables play in human health.



Photo courtesy of Potatoes Goodness Unearthed, Inc


1 lb petite Yukon gold potatoes, halved
¼ cup olive oil, divided
1 sliced shallot, divided
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
¾ lb asparagus, trimmed, chopped (1-inch pieces)
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup fat-free Greek yogurt
7 cup chopped (1-inch pieces) green curly kale
½ cup fresh scallions, chopped
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 oz smoked or traditional Gorgonzola cheese



1. Preheat oven to 450°F.

2. Toss potatoes with 1 Tbsp oil, half of shallots, salt and pepper and transfer to a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, then add asparagus and roast for 10 minutes until golden and tender.

3. Puree remaining olive oil, shallots, vinegar and yogurt in a blender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar.

4. Bring 1 inch of water in a large pot to a boil and add kale; cook for 1 minute until kale is bright green and lightly wilted; drain excess water.

5. Toss kale with dressing, potatoes and scallions and top with walnuts and Gorgonzola.

 Makes 6 servings

 Nutritional Information per Serving: 260 calories, 9 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 4 g fiber, 210 mg sodium

 Recipe and photo courtesy of Potatoes Goodness Unearthed, Inc

This article was written by McKenzie for the September 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition.

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