Crisp, crunchy celery can assist in lowering blood pressure. Bitter endive boosts oral health. Spinach has iron to enrich our blood. Food tastes good but it’s real job is giving the body what it needs to perform.
San Antonio internist Huyen Nguyen, M.D., is a physician who did heal herself. After an illness in her 30s, she became a vegetarian, ridding herself of endometriosis. “My mom is from Vietnam, and she would tell me about certain vegetables.” She encourages her patients: “Eat your vegetables! Food is your best medicine as well as your cheapest and most tasty bet, more so than medications. I always offer that as a first choice, before I say let’s put you on cholesterol medicine or a blood pressure medicine. I try to help them to not have to go that route.”
Summer brings a fruit and vegetable bounty. Dr. Nguyen encourage patients to buy:
1. Celery: Celery is high in potassium and has a lot of fiber and water, also magnesium. It has a little bit of sodium, but you cannot be completely sodium-free. Potassium is essential for people with high blood pressure.
2. Beets: I love beets! They are wonderful. They are high in iron, probiotics, and fiber. I use them as I would carrots. They are also high in carotenoids which are converted into Vitamin A, and good for your eyes and skin.
3. Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain anti-cancer lycopene. Lycopene helps prevent breast, colon, and prostate cancers, and helps protect the skin against sunburn. It is a very sun friendly vegetable.
4. Avocados: Avocado is a summer fruit. It will help lower triglycerides, which is very important in our population of San Antonio. Many people here have high triglycerides, and can be borderline with fatty liver disease. Avocado also aids in vitamin absorption.
5. Dandelion Greens: But don’t go picking them from sidewalk cracks. Those are polluted. Grow them in your backyard, and then pick, wash and eat, like any other green. Sauté in a stir-fry – these are very tasty! Along with lots of Vitamin K for bones, these wild greens may protect against Alzheimer’s, while its pectin makes you feel full.
6. Watercress: Watercress is really good for you, but be careful from which body of water you get it. It’s also very high in potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, and trace minerals.
7. Jackfruit: Jackfruit is a great source of protein. Get it fresh, and season it yourself. It has a similar nutrition profile as a mango. Mango is very high in an antioxidant called ‘zeaxanthin,’ which filters out blue-light rays. Those are the ones emitted by electronic devices, so it can help protect against macular degeneration.
8. Okra: It is the slimmest of all vegetables but packed with niacin, phosphorus, and copper. Okra lowers blood sugar and cholesterol because of its fiber content. The slime collects toxins from the liver and carries it out of the body. The doctor says its B vitamins helps muscles recover from exercise, much more quickly. She steams it 10 minutes, drizzles on lemon juice to enhance nutrients, olive oil, and eats them like french fries.
9. Bitter Melon: “Something from my home country is bitter melon.” Dr. Nguyen says. This spiny, firm, gourd-like cucumber looking thing, helps lower blood sugar. “My mother drinks tea made from bitter melon. And it can help prevent stomach, colon, lung, and breast cancers. Anything bitter helps detoxify the liver.”
10. Green Bananas: Yes, unripe bananas! Because when it is green, it is high in resistant starch, which is not digested and it acts like fiber. When it becomes super-sweet, it is just a lot of sugar, which is what gives the banana a bad name.
Regular, or organic produce?
The doctor says organic, not just because of the lack of pesticides. “Unfortunately, our soil quality has decreased,” she says, as farmers go from manure to nitrogen, to get faster, greener results. She says today’s average topsoil is tired out, so crop nutrition can be compromised. Soil for organics is better tended. “Your nutrients come from the soil and the sun.”
The San Antonio Vegetable Eaters is a six-year-old Meetup group. Jaqueline Fonseca is a co-founder. “Actively in our group, we have about 60 people. We have a social calendar … we have brunches, potlucks, or a speaker.”
What do these pros eat? Tacos, of course, but with squash and zucchini, replacing ground beef. “Any vegetable will have some type of benefit,” says Fonseca.
At one of their potlucks, San Antonio Vegetable Eater Ken Kanagaki related that his switch to a plant-based diet helps him fight prostate cancer, and slimmed him down. “Arginine in watermelon assists the cardiovascular system. In San Antonio, figs are in season, and they have a ton of nutrients, as do loquats and kumquats,” he says. Kanagaki says vitamin K packed leafy greens dilate blood vessels, promoting good circulation. Don’t forget to use lots of herbs and spices, like lemongrass, parsley, cardamom, and cinnamon, which are packed with health benefits.
By Berit Mason